In typically sneaky George Bush fashion, he has issued a last-minute rule, to be published today in the Federal Register, which will take effect the day before he leaves office. It's a rule that guarantees "doctors, hospitals, and even receptionists and volunteers in medical experiments the right to refuse to participate in medical care they find morally objectionable."
This is an obvious attempt to shield those who do not believe in abortions from performing or participating in one. And being an abortion opponent, I empathise. But this ruling has a much wider-sweeping range of possibilities than the short-sighted George Bush has ever considered.
What if an emergency room doctor refuses to treat a potential murderer or other criminal that he finds "morally objectionable"? And what if that doctor turns out to be wrong and an innocent person dies? What if he's right: Does that make it ethically OK to leave someone bleeding to death in your emergency room?
What if a receptionist refuses to announce a patient because she knows he's gay? Or living 'in sin' with someone? Or merely of a different faith than hers?
This will put the medical community in terrible conflict. As we know, you aren't supposed to ask personal questions during an interview. But how else are you to discover if your new receptionist believes that all Catholics are "of the Devil"? Under this new rule, you need to know before you hire her, obviously.
And what will need to be revealed to volunteers in medical studies? Will every study now have to have moral arguments published by opposing analysts, so that the volunteers remain fully informed and can exercise their right to choose? What if halfway through the study they suddenly change their minds due to a change in conscience? Will all their data be destroyed? Will this ultimately invalidate or prolong studies, thus adding to costs?
Will all pharmacists be able to refuse to sell someone condoms if they think that they're using them for the wrong purpose? Will they be able to refuse to dispense medications which can heal or ameliorate sexual diseases because they think that those diseases are a judgement from God?
As usual, George Bush has leaped before he looked. Let's hope that Barack Obama will be able to quickly reverse this rule once he assumes office.