10/15/2021 / By Mary Villareal
Denying people access to medical services is a cause for ethical concern. But doctors and hospitals are now refusing to treat patients who have not been vaccinated against the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19).
Dr. Jason Valentine, a family medicine physician at the Diagnostic and Medical Clinic Infirmary Health in Mobile, Alabama, has informed his patients that effective Oct. 1, he would no longer be treating those who are unvaccinated.
There’s also a leaked memo indicating that the North Texas Mass Critical Care Guideline Task Force is considering whether or not COVID vaccination status should be taken into account in deciding who gets ICU beds in case of shortages.
And then there’s Leilani Lutali, who has a stage 5 renal failure. She has received a letter from UCHealth telling her that doctors at the hospital refuse to perform surgery on her because she is “non-compliant” about getting the vaccine.
Lutali says she knows the risks and is willing to sign a waiver about the possible negative outcomes of her surgery. “It’s surgery, it’s invasive. I’ll sign a waiver for my life. I’m not sure why I can’t sign a waiver for the COVID shot,” says Lutali.
Lutali is not on a waiting list to receive a kidney ahead of children or other individuals. She will be getting a transplant with the help of her friend, Jaimee Fougner, who is ready and willing to donate her kidney. Yet, doctors are refusing to do the procedure.
Despite having a live donor who can give her a kidney, she is being refused a transplant because of her religious stance against taking any of the available COVID-19 vaccines. Lutali, 56, says she could not agree to be vaccinated because of the role that fetal cell lines played in some vaccine development.
They only found in September that COVID-19 vaccine is required for both the donor and recipient and religious exemption is not considered. (Related: UW Medicine DENIES life-saving heart transplant to patient because he won’t take heart-damaging COVID vaccines.)
Both women are Christians and object to taking the vaccine on religious grounds. “As a Christian, I can’t support anything that has to do with abortion of babies, and the sanctity of life for me is precious,” says Lutali.
Determining whether or not it is ethical for doctors and hospitals to refuse providing their services rests on their intentions when turning people away and whether or not their decisions are consistent with the professional norms or established practices in the medical industry.
It would be unethical if the doctor refuses treatment out of anger, resentment or frustration.
Doctors and health care professionals are bound by their moral obligations to prevent illness and restore health for anyone without discrimination and despite certain objections that they may have about their patients.
These obligations stem from the foundations of medicine, and cultural expectations demand that everyone have equal access to healthcare. Once discrimination becomes a factor and interferes with the doctors’ ability to meet the obligation to provide safe and effective treatment to their patients, then refusing medical services may be an ethical issue.
Physician can’t refuse to treat unvaccinated patients if they can create safe environments and implement supporting procedures.
In the case of Lutali, denying her a life-saving procedure should set off red flags about the hospital. The way the doctors at UCHealth are handling her case is shameful and is against everything the Hippocratic oath sets to uphold.
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