Updated at bottom of post (Jan. 7, 2009)
CNN sided against the expansion of health care workers’ right to not participate in controversial medical procedures like abortion and in-vitro fertilization during a report on Friday’s Newsroom program by including only one pro-life voice amongst several statements and clips from pro-abortion groups. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the chief medical correspondent for the network, also criticized this expansion, which was recently made by the Department of Health and Human Services: “...[I]t’s a bit of a slippery slope. I mean, when you say, I’m not going to provide care based on my own conscience...you can imagine that opens up a whole wide range of possibilities, in terms of what is going to be treated and what is not.”
Gupta began the report, which aired 22 minutes into the 10 am Eastern hour of the CNN program, by immediately trying to cast doubt on the need for the new regulation from the HHS, which protects the right of conscience of health care workers, so they aren’t forced to participate in any procedure they object to: “There were laws already in the books, but these laws are stronger, and they involved all health care workers -- so doctors, nurses, anybody who works in a hospital can decide that they can refuse care -- they can refuse access, consults, referrals, and without any discrimination against them. And they can do this based on their conscience.”
The medical correspondent then introduced the first sound bite, which came from an OB-GYN who was the only person or organization in the entire report who supported the new regulation. She was immediately contradicted by the prestigious AMA:
GUPTA (voice-over): Twenty years ago, when Dr. Sandy Christiansen went to medical school, she never thought she’d face discrimination. Yet, because of her anti-abortion views, she said she was repeatedly denied the opportunity to perform medical procedures that another intern was allowed to do. When she pressed her superiors, she didn’t like the response.
DR. SANDY CHRISTIANSEN, OBSTETRICAN/GYNECOLOGIST: She’s doing that because she’s been working hard at the abortions and you haven’t, and so she gets that perk.
GUPTA: Even after she got her license, Christiansen said she felt unaccepted by some of her peers because of her views. Now a medical consultant for a pregnancy resource center in Frederick, Maryland, she has never performed an abortion and refuses to refer patients to abortion clinics.
CHRISTIANSEN: Just in the same way that my conscience would not allow me to perform an abortion, I wouldn't ask another colleague to do that.
GUPTA: But many health care organizations, including the American Medical Association, believe health care providers like Christiansen have an obligation to their patients, to advise of them the options, despite their own beliefs. Now, a new regulation introduced by the Department of Health and Human Services would support Christiansen’s right to refuse referrals and withhold information that goes against her own beliefs. Critics argue there are already laws on the books protecting health care professionals when it comes to refusing care for personal reasons. The new proposal goes further by making it so that all health care workers from doctors to janitors who work in the hospitals may refuse to provide services, information, or advice to patient if they are morally against it. Critics fear that could mean anything from fertility treatments to abortion to stem cell research.
Gupta then played a sound bite from Adam Sonfield, a senior public policy associate for the Guttmacher Institute. Gupta did not mention either the Institute’s pro-abortion stance, or its founding by Planned Parenthood. Sonfield warned that the regulation “explicitly allows that doctor or that nurse or any other health care provider to withhold information that would be relevant to a patient trying to make a medical decision.”
Doctor Gupta then continued by returning to the tactic of trying to cast doubt on the need for the regulation:
GUPTA: Organizations like the American Nurses Association already have a code of ethics for their members. They believe nurses and other health care professionals are there for the patient, and it’s the patient’s prerogative to make decisions on care based on their own beliefs, not the health care providers.
MARY JEAN SCHUMANN, AMERICAN NURSES ASSOCIATION: We don’t go to school to learn how to be -- make god-like decisions. That’s not what it's about for us. It’s about trying to get to where the patient is and helping the patient make their own decisions. You know, nobody appointed us the ultimate person to pass judgment.
GUPTA: But Christiansen said she is not playing God, just exercising her code of ethics, along with the Hippocratic oath.
CHRISTIANSEN: Why would you want to eliminate people, you know, who have, you know, these certain held beliefs in conscience from a particular field of practice. Frankly, all the more reason to hold them there.
Despite the apparent prestige of the American Nurses Association, Gupta left out how the organization was an active supporter of pro-abortion candidate Barack Obama during the presidential campaign.
The CNN medical correspondent concluded the report by making his “slippery slope” argument:
GUPTA (on-camera): As you might imagine, this is controversial, and some of the critics are already starting to speak up. Senator [John] Kerry said, look, what were describing here could interfere with family planning, it could interfere with end-of-life issues, and he’s calling on the incoming administration to reverse that. But that, you know, that takes time. This is all a process here, as you might imagine.
HOLMES: So you know that everybody out there listening to this is thinking, well what am I supposed to do if I walk in [and] my doctor says he won’t give me care, or a nurse says it. What can a patient do?
GUPTA: You know, it’s really complicated. If you live in a city like Atlanta or New York, there’s a lot of hospitals -- there’s a lot of potential options. But, you know, it’s a good point. If you live in a rural area, you don't have as many options. So it becomes difficult. And also, it’s a bit of a slippery slope. I mean, when you say, I’m not going to provide care based on my own conscience -- you know, my own conscience, I mean, you can imagine that opens up a whole wide range of possibilities, in terms of what is going to be treated and what is not.
HOLMES: Last thing here -- we got to let you go, but still, you said it would take a while for a new administration when they come in to change the rule. Do we have any indication yet? Has there been any word -- anything on the record yet from Obama about this -- just checking -- that you know of?
GUPTA: No -- you know, the thing that we heard from Senator Kerry -- we haven’t heard specifically, at least officially, but again, it takes a while. So it wouldn’t be, you know, right in January. It would take several months, if not a year, for something like this to be overturned.
HOLMES: All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Interesting.
Update (Managing Editor Ken Shepherd | Jan. 7, 2009): Steven Ertelt of LifeNews.com cited this post in a Jan. 7, 2009, story about President-elect Barack Obama reportedly planning to name Gupta to serve as U.S. Surgeon General.