Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Oklahoma Republicans: It's OK if doctors lie to women so they don't have abortions

I don't write about abortion very often because, well, it's not a subject I'm very partisan about. I'm instinctively uncomfortable with the procedure; I also suspect that women's liberties really are bound up (to some extent) in the freedom to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term. There's lots I find sympathetic -- and reprehensible -- about both sides of the political debate, so I try to stay out of it as much as possible.

Still, a new law passed in Oklahoma to reduce abortions is really, really awful:

The second measure passed into law Tuesday protects doctors from malpractice suits if they decide not to inform the parents of a unborn baby that the fetus has birth defects. The intent of the bill is to prevent parents from later suing doctors who withhold information to try to influence them against having an abortion.

In other words, if your doctor doesn't want you to have an abortion, he can keep critical information about your fetus-baby's health from you on purpose -- and have the sanction of the state of Oklahoma in doing so. It's a huge interference in the doctor-patient relationship, and a hugely burdensome one at that.

Why burdensome?

For one thing: Women in Oklahoma have much less reason to trust their doctors now. The relationship between patients and doctors is more than a business transaction for services rendered; it involves the feelings and decisions of people at the most vulnerable points in their lives. That's why the doctor-patient relationship has been treated among society's most sacred -- right up there with client-attorney and priest-confessor. This action by Oklahoma Republicans erodes the foundation of that relationship: If you know your doctor has state sanction to lie to you (even if by omission) the only safe thing to do during a pregnancy is go to two, three or more doctors to ensure you're getting sound advice. Most women don't have the financial resources to do that. Once again, restrictions against abortion are really restrictions against abortion for poor women.

For another thing: A doctor's decision now can commit a family -- independent of their own choices in the matter -- to a lifetime of medical bills and hard work to support a child with birth defects. Don't get me wrong: I admire people like Sarah Palin who choose to carry a Down's Syndrome fetus to term. But such decisions are hugely burdensome and, yes, costly to the families that make them. Entering the delivery room without such knowledge -- when your doctor has that knowledge -- is an unconscionable burden on those parents.

Finally, there's the simple matter of the truth. Truth is important. Period.

Again, I understand why people can be virulently opposed to abortion. But sanctioning lies as a means of reducing abortion seems a twisted and corrupt way to achieve the goal. Oklahoma Republicans believe it's ok for your doctor to lie to you. That's simply awful.

UPDATE: Not to mention it's paternalistic in a way we simply don't allow in other phases of the doctor-patient relationship. There was a time doctors didn't tell you you had untreatable cancer because they wanted you to die with a minimum of fuss and worry. But those days are long gone. Except for women in Oklahoma.


Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like some smart doctors will only takes pregnant women on since then they won't have to pay any malpractice insurance - after all, in OK, they can do no wrong, no matter how unethical or negligent they are.

KhabaLox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KhabaLox said...

"some smart doctors will only takes pregnant women"

And they'll probably come up with some fancy name to make them sound special, like "obstetrician." ;)

Seriously though, I'm appalled by this law. I don't see any obvious constitutional issues (unfortunately), but OK should be ashamed of this end run around freedom of choice.

(Why do I have to enter the captcha if I'm signed in with my account? Am I doing something wrong?)