In the first week of April, Mississippi passed a new law making it expressly legal for doctors, psychologists, and counselors to opt out of any procedure or choose not to take on any patient if doing so would compromise their conscience. (photo: Andrey Popov/Shutterstock/Paul Spella/The Atlantic)
Emma Green | The Atlantic | Reader Supported News | April 20, 2016
A new law in Mississippi makes it legal for physicians and therapists to opt out of care on religious grounds. What does this mean for medicine?
eing lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is not a disease. It took a long time, but nearly all medical organizations now agree that queerness is not a “sociopathic personality disturbance,” as the American Psychiatric Association once maintained.
“Nearly all” is an important caveat, though. There are still a few organizations—which most doctors and scholars would likely consider part of the fringes of medicine—that challenge this view. Some are dissenting offshoots of mainstream associations. Others are the de-fanged descendants of ex-gay-therapy groups. They’re often accused of outright bigotry, but these doctors tend to frame their dissent differently, placing an emphasis on “choice.” Patients have a right to choose a therapist who will help them with unwanted same-sex attractions or feelings of gender dysphoria, they say. And physicians and therapists have a right to choose not to provide treatments that conflict with their religious beliefs. These treatments might include sex-change operations, hormone-replacement therapy for transgender people, fertility treatments to same-sex couples, or counseling for patients who are in non-heterosexual relationships.
Some legislators agree. In the first week of April, Mississippi passed a new law making it expressly legal for doctors, psychologists, and counselors to opt out of any procedure or choose not to take on any patient if doing so would compromise their conscience. The law is specifically designed to protect medical professionals who object to gay marriage and non-marital sex. Tennessee’s general assembly just passed a similar law, which would only apply to counselors, and a now-dead Florida bill would have protected religious health-care organizations from having to “administer, recommend, or deliver a medical treatment or procedure that would be contrary to the religious or moral convictions or policies of the facility.”