Many Would Allow Research on Extra Embryos

Most infertility patients would let their extra embryos be used for stem cell research, according to a recent survey published in this month’s issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility. When they were asked if using leftover embryos for stem cell research should be allowed, 73 percent of those who gave a definitive opinion said yes, though blacks and Hispanics were less likely to approve the practice than were whites. Patients under 30, Protestants, those who were less wealthy, and those who were single were also less likely to support using the leftover embryos.
The patients were also asked if they would sell their extra embryos to other couples—something that both the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists consider ethically unacceptable. (For patients who can’t conceive using their own eggs, it’s more cost-effective to try using pre-existing embryos than an egg donor, according to the researchers.) When asked if selling their extra embryos to other couples should be allowed, 56 percent of those who gave a definitive opinion said yes.
These patients are the gatekeepers of the hundreds of thousands of embryos left over from in vitro fertilization that are now frozen and stored in fertility clinics, the researchers point out. “Infertility patients, in general, are altruistic,” says Dr. Tarun Jain, clinical IVF director at the University of Illinois at Chicago and lead author of the study, “and it makes sense that they would try to advance medicine and help others.” —Heather Wax


New Religious Policy for Ontario Doctors

The College of Physicians & Surgeons of Ontario, a regulatory body in Canada, is backing off its threat to sanction doctors who refuse to perform treatments and procedures based on religious or moral grounds. As we reported back in August, the college had released new draft guidelines that said doctors who opted out of things like prescribing birth control or the morning-after pill, performing abortions, or helping same-sex couples conceive because such treatments went against their conscience would face disciplinary action. A number of religious organizations spoke out against the proposed policy, as did the Ontario Medical Association, saying it believes “it should never be professional misconduct for an Ontario physician to act in accordance with his or her religious beliefs.”
But a revised draft, released Wednesday and voted on yesterday, is watered down—and, many feel, an improvement. Doctors will no longer face misconduct charges from the college for refusing to perform treatments that go against their religious or moral beliefs. Instead, the patient who is refused treatment can seek redress by filing a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. —Heather Wax


Rule to Boost Doctors’ "Right of Conscience"

In a new memo, the Department of Health and Human Services has announced proposed regulations that seek to strengthen and protect health-care providers’ “right of conscience”—in other words, their right to refuse to provide certain treatments or procedures, like abortions, for religious or moral reasons. There are already a number of laws that prohibit doctors and hospitals from discriminating against health-care workers who opt of such treatments, but HHS wants federally funded institutions to certify in writing their compliance with the laws, making it easier, in essence, for doctors to opt out of abortions. “Doctors and other health-care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience,” says Mike Leavitt, HHS secretary. “Freedom of expression and action should not be surrendered upon the issuance of a health-care degree.”
Many, however, worry the regulation is so sweeping, as well as vague in its use of the term “abortion,” that it could also affect access to contraception.
The stronger protections stand in stark contrast to new draft guidelines from the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Ontario, a regulating body in Canada, which would no longer allow doctors in the province to refuse to perform treatments and procedures that go against their religious or moral conscience. If passed, doctors who opt out of such treatments will face disciplinary action. —Heather Wax


Doctors Told Medicine Trumps Personal Morals

An interesting situation is developing in Ontario, Canada. A new draft proposal of guidelines from the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Ontario, a regulating body, would prevent doctors from being able to opt out of treatments and procedures that go against their religious or moral conscience. As of now, Ontario physicians are able to refuse things like prescribing birth control or the morning-after pill, performing abortions, or helping same-sex couples conceive if it goes against their personal beliefs. Under the new guidelines, that would stop, and doctors who refused such treatments because of their moral convictions would face disciplinary action.
According to Canada’s National Post, the college’s draft says that a “physician’s responsibility is to place the needs of the patient first, [so] there will be times when it may be necessary for physicians to set aside their personal beliefs in order to ensure that patients or potential patients are provided with the medical services they require.” It also states that physicians “should be aware that decisions to restrict medical services offered … or to end physician-patient relationships that are based on moral or religious belief may contravene the Code and/or constitute professional misconduct.”
Many, like Lorne Gunter, who wrote the newspaper’s editorial on the subject, think the proposal is biased against religious believers and violates physicians rights while trying to protect the rights of others. The CPSO, he writes, is “placing the rights of women and gays ahead of those of doctors and people of faith, whether they are Jews, Muslims, Christians or others.” —Heather Wax

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