On Thursday, January 18, 2018, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the formation of a new “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” within the HHS Office for Civil Rights. As a health system and public health organization, Howard Brown Health is deeply alarmed by the initiative, which threatens the central tenants of medical ethics and invites discrimination, rather than critical protections for LGBTQ rights.
“Health care providers carry a critical responsibility to do no harm. This ethical standard is fundamental to ensuring that healthcare providers prioritize community trust, work to decrease stigma, and facilitate healing,” said David Ernesto Munar, President and CEO.
In today’s announcement, HHS states that the new division will be permitted to allow “doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to opt out of providing services that violate their moral or religious beliefs.” This measure will only further limit access, delay patient care, and perpetuate stigma for LGBTQ people, people living with HIV, people of color, women, and many others.
The HHS announcement comes at a time when fighting stigma is more important than ever. Stigma and discrimination are harmful to people’s health and result in poorer health outcomes, severe illness, and premature death. While Howard Brown continues to provide a safer healthcare space for our community, discrimination and stigma are an all too common reality for many people in our communities.
“Howard Brown exists as a direct result of healthcare providers and systems that historically refused patient care due to stigma or prejudice. This history—of over 40 years—is rooted in the need for LGBTQ people and people living with HIV to find compassionate and affirming care,” said Magda Houlberg, MD, Chief Clinical Officer.
Despite these new developments, Howard Brown will continue to provide high-quality and affirming care to LGBTQ people, people living with HIV, and all people who come through our doors. We will continue to advocate for measures that protect vulnerable populations against harmful healthcare stigma and discrimination and educate healthcare settings and professionals in the appropriate strategies to attend to the unique needs of LGBTQ people with dignity and respect.