Eroding the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Doctor and patient.You remember the concept of doctor-patient confidentiality, right? According to the American Medical Association, it’s the idea that “a physician may not disclose any medical information revealed by a patient or discovered by a physician in connection with the treatment of a patient.”

The reason for confidentiality is that you, as a patient, need to feel comfortable telling your doctor about anything – from that strange smell to that embarrassing injury.

A new bill now moving through the General Assembly could dramatically erode this confidentiality for women, turning their doctors into investigators. Physicians would have to try to determine a woman’s reason for terminating a pregnancy, and if they decide the gender of the fetus has anything to do with it, they would have to refuse to perform the procedure or risk being sued.

House Bill 716 states “no person shall knowingly or recklessly perform or attempt to perform an abortion upon a woman in this State with knowledge, or an objective reason to know, that a significant factor in the pregnant woman seeking the abortion is related to the sex of the unborn child.”

What do “an objective reason to know” and “a significant factor” mean? Doctors who testified at a committee hearing on the bill said the language concerned them. Does it mean that if a woman complains about how her daughters are always running around and breaking things, or if she mentions that the bickering between her sons is driving her up a wall, the doctor has “an objective reason to know” what’s going on in her head? The doctor would likely have to interrogate the woman to find out. And that’s not how a healthy doctor-patient relationship is supposed to work.

Based on the conversation in the legislature, there’s a fair amount of fear fueling the effort to pass this bill. Turns out legislators are so concerned about gender-based abortions because of all of the immigrants in North Carolina who come from countries and cultures where such procedures are acceptable. That part of the conversation elicited some strong feedback from women’s and immigrant advocates. As reported on WRAL.com :

Milan Pham, president of the Asian-American and Pacific Women’s Association, said the proposal “discriminates specifically against Asian-American women,” who already face cultural and language barriers to health care. Pham, a Vietnamese immigrant, said the sex-selection ban would add to the problem by encouraging interrogations of Asian-American women who seek abortions.

Jina Dhillon with NC Women United, also of Asian descent, accused lawmakers of seeking to “institutionalize racial profiling.”

“They’re throwing around stereotypes of Asian women, stereotypes I’ve experienced in this building,” she told the committee. Dhillon said the bill addresses a problem that doesn’t exist and will do nothing to address actual issues of gender inequality in the state.

“Finding real solutions to real problems takes more work, more creativity and, frankly, more intelligence than House Bill 716,” she said.

[Bill sponsor Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Mecklenburg County] said the issue of race or bias never occurred to her in writing the bill.

Whether it’s about discrimination or a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality, the bottom line is that women, not politicians, should make the informed decisions when it comes to the outcome of her own pregnancy.

 




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