A New Montana Bill to Protect Medical Professionals

Elinor Smith from the University of Montana School of Journalism is providing New Media Broadcasters with reports from the Montana legislative session. This is one of her reports:

The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony Monday on a bill that would protect medical professionals if they refuse to give medical treatment because they believe it goes against their morals or conscience. 

House Bill 303 would allow healthcare workers, from nurses to surgeons to pharmacists, the ability to deny participating in any form of treatment and protect them from repercussions if they refuse because they object morally or religiously to the treatment. Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, sponsored the bill. 

“The future will need more doctors and nurses. We hear every day about worker shortages in healthcare, but nine out of 10 healthcare workers who are people of faith would rather quit practicing medicine than be forced to violate their conscience. Honoring and respecting them is one of the important ways that we can help make this great state a healthcare worker destination,” Regier said. 

There were ten proponents of the bill, mostly doctors or other healthcare professionals, who have dealt with these conflicts. David Ingram is one such doctor who said he worries about the future of his career if his right to object to treatments he is not comfortable with is not protected. 

“Montana physicians gladly serve our diverse communities, but they may have an objection of conscience to a specific procedure, and no one should be forced to choose between their profession and their faith,” Ingram said. 

Twenty-three individuals testified against the bill, including medical and legal professionals who said that the protections for doctors were redundant under ethical practices in Montana, and they also shared concerns that the bill would essentially make it legal to medically discriminate against transgender individuals. Opponents also said the bill could have unintended consequences, like limiting access to care for people in rural communities.

Lawyers who spoke against the bill said it could open the door for doctors to violate the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, which ensures patients receive emergency care in the ER. They also said there were no included protections for patients and if the bill passes, doctors would be able to deny care whenever they want to whomever they want under the exception of moral or religious freedom.

Other medical professionals who opposed the bill said this bill could cause problems in hospitals’ ability to properly staff hospitals. Jean Branscum is the CEO of the Montana Medical Association, and she opposed the bill.

“It truly is the medical professional’s job to provide care to their patient without judgment. It’s to provide medical care to get them the best care possible. We need to make sure that we don’t put bills in place that could potentially supplant the standard of patient care with unknown beliefs of a provider, a hospital, or a clinic employee,” Branscum said. 

Under the bill, doctors are not required to refer patients to another physician if they are uncomfortable or unable to perform a specific procedure. 

The committee did not take immediate action on the bill. 

 

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