Every December, I renew my membership in the IEEE (formerly known as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). I keep this membership to stay somewhat connected to my educational roots as a systems engineer, even though my career path took me in a different direction some years ago. The IEEE has a Code of Ethics for its members, something I presume all members have read and, by maintaining a membership with the organization, subscribe and adhere to.
According to the first item in the code, I “agree to to accept responsibility in making decisions consistent with the safety, health and welfare of the public, and to disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment.” Now you may think this isn’t a big deal–after all, we’re just talking about engineers--but members of this organization are engineers that work in all aspects of life, from designing weapons systems to electric power plants to the brake controllers for freight trains. In essence, members of this organization touch our lives each and every day in countless ways that we don’t even know about.
Each engineer comes from a different background, and presumably he will use his beliefs, experience, and knowledge to do the right thing. In fact, if my employer “strongly suggests” that I do something that is detrimental to “safety, health and welfare of the public,” I’m bound by my morals and my commitment to the IEEE to oppose such actions; the guiding principle is what I believe to be moral and ethical. In other words, I cannot and will not be forced to do something that I believe is wrong.
In December 2008, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) passed a final rule entitled “Ensuring That Department of Health and Human Services Funds Do Not Support Coercive or Discriminatory Policies or Practices in Violation of Federal Law.” In essence this rule protects a healthcare provider from being forced to do something that is against his morals and ethics; i.e. a medical professional under this rule has the choice to refuse to do something that is contrary to his beliefs, morals, and ethics.
However, the current administration has now directed HHS to rescind that rule. If that happens, healthcare providers will no longer have a choice to act according to their morals and beliefs. They will either be forced to do things they consider immoral or unethical or they will risk losing their jobs. A doctor might be required to perform an abortion against his will; or a physician assistant who believes using contraceptives is acting against God’s command may be forced to write a prescription for the pill; or a pharmacist might be forced to dispense Plan B even though he knows it may cause the death of a human embryo. The possibilities for coercion are endless.
Maybe it’s just me, but…why is it that in a society that values the “freedom to choose” so highly, certain people won’t be allowed to choose to follow their conscience if this rule is rescinded? Why do we find it honorable for an engineer to obey a code of ethics so that his actions are not detrimental to others but, if this rule is rescinded, a healthcare provider cannot follow his conscience and obey a code of ethics or follow his morals?
To voice your opposition to this attempt to rescind the regulations protecting a healthcare provider’s conscience protection rights, see one of the following websites: Family Research Council, National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, or Freedom 2 Care (an ad hoc coalition of healthcare professionals). Please visit these sites before the public comment period ends on April 9, 2009.