Michigan may allow doctors to refuse treatment to gays
April 27 2004 12:00 AM ET
Some gay men and lesbians are worried that a package of bills passed last week by the Michigan house could allow health care providers to refuse them treatment on ethical, moral, or religious grounds unless they need emergency care. The legislation would allow health care workers and insurers to refuse for reasons of conscience to perform procedures, fill prescriptions, or cover treatment. The legislation would not apply in medical emergencies. "As written, this law would allow a health care provider to not provide health care services to someone based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation," said Democratic state representative Chris Kolb, the legislature's only openly gay lawmaker. "It's very worrisome and disturbing."
Michigan law already allows doctors or nurses to decline to perform or assist with abortions. It also lets pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions for morning-after birth control pills. Republican sponsors of the bills said they are not targeting gays and simply want to protect providers from compromising their personal convictions with respect to such things as abortion, stem cell research, cloning, and genetic testing. Opponents plan to challenge the legislation in court if the senate and Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm approve it. Republicans control the state senate 22-16. Most GOP senators are expected to support the measure when it comes out of committee.
The governor's spokeswoman, Liz Boyd, said the package is "too broad" and must be changed before Granholm will sign it. "We are sympathetic to this issue, and we want to work with the legislature to develop a version of the legislation that we all support," Boyd said. The bills bar health care providers from refusing to treat anyone based on religion, race, national origin, age, or gender. But sexual orientation is not on that list. "If they wanted to cover sexual orientation, they would have to add it in there, and they obviously have not done so," Kolb said. "It's blatantly discriminatory at the very least."
The Michigan State Medical Society also objects to the legislation. "We don't believe it's necessary," spokesman David Fox said. "Medical ethics has dictated for decades, if not centuries, that a physician isn't required to do anything that's against his or her morals." Sean Kosofsky, policy director for the Detroit gay rights group Triangle Foundation, said the issue is not religious freedom but conservative GOP politics: "It's completely radical, completely unconstitutional, and violates every ethic in the medical profession."
Rep. Randy Richardville, another GOP sponsor, said he would be willing to revise the proposal to protect gays. "We are not trying in any way, shape, or form to push our moral, ethical, or religious beliefs on anyone else. What we are doing is trying to protect those beliefs for those providing medical care," he said.