‘Conscience laws’ Endanger Patients and Contradict Health Tech’s Core Values

By Lena Levin, Co-Founder and CEO, Via Surgical

Recently, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law S.B. 289, known as the “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act.” The law allows anyone who provides healthcare services -- not just doctors -- to refuse to give non-emergency care if they believe the care goes against their conscience.

But, Arkansas is just one of several states in the U.S. that have been pushing laws like this over the past several years. These “conscience laws” are harmful to all patients -- and particularly LGBTQ, women, and rural citizens -- especially since over 40 percent of the available beds are controlled by Catholic institutions in some states.

While disguised as a safeguard that prevents doctors from having to participate in medical services that are at odds with their religious beliefs, the bill goes far beyond that and should be repealed.

“Non-emergency” service is open to interpretation

The Arkansas legislation is one giant slippery slope. Even beyond the direct effects that the law would have on reproductive rights and the LGBTQ community, it leaves open questions about the many different services that medical professionals could decline, simply by saying it goes against their conscience. Broadly letting healthcare providers decide which services they will or will not perform based on religion, ethics, or conscience essentially eliminates any protections patients may have had under federal anti-discrimination regulations.

What constitutes an "emergency" to one doctor or EMT may be deemed "non-emergency" to another. By allowing medical professionals to avoid performing some services, the bill effectively can be interpreted to allow anyone involved in the provision of healthcare services to avoid performing any kind of service, as long as they say they believed it to be non-emergency at the time.

The law also allows individuals to refuse to refer patients to someone who would provide the desired service for them. This places an undue burden on patients with physical or mental health issues, causing delays in treatment as the patient must go in search of an alternate provider. In cases of health- and life-threatening issues, for example, women have been refused treatment at Catholic medical institutions and forced to ride to the next nearest emergency care center.

The healthtech community is working to improve the health of all

The Arkansas law runs absolutely counter to the values of the businesses that are working hard to develop and improve medical technologies. Healthtech startups at their core are fighting to provide more and better services to more patients -- whether it’s by building platforms to make healthcare accessible to all, developing specific medical devices to improve the quality of service, and even at the scientific level of research for new treatments or vaccines.

Imagine developing a vaccine for a global pandemic and then allowing doctors the right to refuse giving the vaccine because it’s open to interpretation whether the virus represents an emergency to specific people. Or imagine a hospital pharmacist who deliberately tries to spoil hundreds of vaccine doses because of the conspiracy theories he believes. Laws like the one in Arkansas open up the healthcare system to abuse by conspiracy theorists, and it is already the case that many wellness providers are basing their services on QAnon falsehoods.

The healthtech community is not just developing medications and devices for patients whose beliefs are similar to their own. Equally, medical professionals should not be making it harder for people to get needed medical care based on personal feelings. On the contrary, the ultimate goal of healthtech businesses and healthcare service providers alike should be a singular focus on improving the quality of care for all.

Medical ethics and diversity laws are anti-ethical

As the healthtech community continues to work tirelessly to bring new solutions to the marketplace to improve the health of everyone, it must also stand against laws like this, which threaten to eradicate the important gains that have been made in enhancing the lives and health of patients.

The Arkansas law -- and others like it -- place the burden of finding appropriate care on the patient instead of on the medical community, where it belongs. These laws must be repealed.

This article was originally published in TechCrunch.

About Lena Levin

Lena Levin is Co-Founder and CEO of Via Surgical, a leading developer of novel surgical fixation solutions. She served as Co-Founder and CFO of PolyTouch Medical, which was acquired by Covidien in 2011. As an expert in financial and accounting management of growth-oriented medical device companies, she has completed numerous capital raisings from private investors and OCS and completed an M&A transaction with a multi-billion-dollar international medical device company. Prior to that, she worked at the BDO Ziv Haft Accounting firm, serving as a corporate analyst in the Corporate Finance Dept. and as an associate in the Professional Dept. She received an MBA from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, a BA in Accounting (magna cum laude) from Tel-Aviv University and a BA in English Language and Literature & Sociology and Anthropology (magna cum laude) from Haifa University.

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