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Missouri House Committee Examines Medical Conscience Bill

A doctor's stethoscope
(Via Flickr/Rosemary)
(Via Flickr/Rosemary)
A doctor's stethoscope

Legislation to allow medical professionals to refuse to take part in procedures that violate their religious or personal beliefs was heard Wednesday by a Missouri House committee.

House bill 1430 is sponsored by House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, and is one of his top priorities for the 2014 session.  In addition, it would make it illegal for any public official or institution to discriminate against an individual or institution that refuses to perform any specific medical procedure.  Among those testifying in favor of the bill was Tyler McClay, general counsel for the Missouri Catholic Conference.  He says the specified medical procedures covered in the bill are narrowly tailored.

"Most people would understand if a nurse came in and said 'I have a problem with participating in an in vitro fertilization procedure, for example," McClay said.  "It would not allow a nurse to come in and say 'I'm worried about getting an infection from a brain procedure.' It wouldn't cover that situation."

The text of HB 1430 lists the following procedures that would qualify for a religious or personal exemption:  "abortion, abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, sterilization which is not medically necessary, assisted reproduction" (i.e., in vitro fertilization), "human cloning, human embryonic stem-cell research, human somatic cell nuclear transfer, fetal tissue research, and non-therapeutic fetal experimentation."  It  also includes language stating that life-saving procedures cannot be withheld under the proposed law.

Crystal Williams, a lobbyist for the Missouri chapter of the ACLU, testified against the bill.

"When they start making exceptions entirely in women's health care, including contraception (and) things of that nature, then you really start singling out and discriminating against women's health care in particular," Williams said.  "That's something that, over past court cases, (has) not been allowed by the courts."

David Hale from the Missouri Hospital Association also testified against the bill.  He says their organization is more concerned about the employment aspects.

"The issues (we have) are centered around 'reasonable notice,' what that would mean is not defined in the bill," Hale said.  "(Neither is) the definition of 'conscience,' how a human resource team or director would deal with defining that and interacting with an employee on that without violating any other (part of the proposed) law."

Dale also told the committee he did not "relish being on the opposite side of a bill" being sponsored by the House Speaker.

"That is not a very comfortable position to be in, and it's not a position I enjoy," Hale said.

Jones sponsored a similar bill last year that passed the House but died in the Senate.  This year's version will be voted on by the House Health Care Policy Committee at a later date.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.