Does our mission to heal transcend personal beliefs?

There’s nothing like discrimination — true or imagined — to keep our airwaves humming. Recently, Indiana and then Arkansas were media fodder for laws that were proposed to protect religious freedom. Yes, I know the other side of the argument, that these religious freedom protections were veiled attempts to discriminate against the LGBT community. Both states raced to revise their original laws, although the laws’ backers deny any discriminatory intent or effect.

It was likely that these governors feared an economic stuff arm from large companies who have expressed concern and disapproval over the perceived discriminatory effects of religious freedom laws. I wonder how many of these companies do business with or remain silent about countries that use child labor, discriminate against women, have no freedom of speech or make homosexuality a crime.

Realize that the original proposals do not guarantee an outcome in any dispute, a point that I believe is widely misunderstood. For example, the law would not make it legal for a florist to deny service to a gay wedding. It would permit the florist to allege in court that such a service would constitute a significant burden on his religious beliefs. If I were the sitting judge, I would likely rule against the florist as I do not accept that selling flowers assaults one’s religious tenets. Just because a person claims his religion is being attacked, doesn’t make it so.

Some acts of discrimination get a free pass.

  • Ivy League institutions discriminate against students with lower SAT scores.
  • NBA teams discriminate against players who can’t dribble.
  • News executives discriminate against broadcasters with speech impediments.
  • The Catholic priesthood will not ordain Muslims as priests.

Of course, I’m not entirely serious here. I do not think that anyone should face discrimination for who they are. Indeed, I wish our society were closer to a meritocracy. Sometimes, the reason that an individual does not get a job promotion, make the team, get the lead role in a play or get acquitted at trial is because the person doesn’t deserve it. I don’t deny the existence of prejudicial behavior and bigotry, but they should not be invoked by default when a person is denied a desired outcome. Sometimes folks are fired because they should be.

Should a tattoo artist be able to refuse to ink “I Hate Jews” on someone’s chest? What if an atheist wants body art with bold lettering of “I Hate Jesus”? The Supreme Court decided in the Hobby Lobby case that a private business can deny services for religious reasons under certain circumstances. When can a private business lawfully refuse service to a customer?

What about physicians? Do we have to treat every person who makes an appointment to see us? I don’t know the private beliefs of my patients, but I’m sure they are a cross section of society with all the prejudices that one would expect. If I knew for certain that a patient was a homophobe or a racist or an anti-Semite, should I discharge this person from my practice? Could a pro-life physician ethically discharge a pro-choice activist from his practice? Could this doctor justify this decision by his belief that the patient advocates murder and that a healthful doctor-patient relationship would not be possible?

Or, should doctors see everyone as our mission to heal and comfort transcends personal beliefs and practices?

Michael Kirsch is a gastroenterologist who blogs at MD Whistleblower

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