The medical perils of religiously-exempted doctors

Far-right MK Orit Strok suggested physicians should be able to opt out of performing certain procedures if they go against their religious beliefs, potentially unwinding doctor-patient trust

Adir Yanko|
Religious Zionist party MK Orit Strock set off quite the firestorm in Israeli politics when she presented her vision on how and when certain doctors will be required to treat the patient in front of them.
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  • In her opinion, doctors that feel that treating a certain patient goes against their religious beliefs should be able to opt out of providing care so long as other doctors are theoretically available to do it.
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    הציונות הדתית בסבב ההתייעצויות עם הנשיא לקראת הרכבת הממשלה
    הציונות הדתית בסבב ההתייעצויות עם הנשיא לקראת הרכבת הממשלה
    MK Orit Strok
    (Photo: Courtesy)
    The majority of the medical procedures Strok was referring to seem to be focused on reproductive issues such as fertility, tubal ligation and abortions.
    In recent years, Ynet has exposed several institutions that refused to provide certain types of fertility treatments to same-sex couples and single women, such as Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
    Another such case took place at Sanz Medical Center in Netanya, where authorization for such procedures was contingent on consultation with a sanctioned Rabbi.
    Physicians for Human Rights Israel, a non-profit, has already mapped out the specific treatments and procedures that may be restricted due to a doctor's objections, and three hospitals have been singled out as the most problematic: Shaare Zedek, Sanz and Mayanei Yeshua in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak.
    Shaare Zedek have responded by saying that while their fertility treatments began 20 years ago as a way to accommodate those who wish to start a family according to the Jewish Halacha, those are open to anyone seeking them, regardless of familial status.
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    פרופסור נדב דוידוביץ
    פרופסור נדב דוידוביץ
    Prof. Davidovitch
    (Photo: Avi Hai)
    Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, chair of the Association of Public Health Physicians, said that bio-ethical discussions have been ongoing with the active participation of all faiths and creeds, regarding start-of-life procedures like such as fertility all the way to end-of-life matters such as euthanasia.
    "We've had Jews, Muslims and Christians all participating in these panels," he said. "It is important to be forthcoming and transparent about such sensitive issues. In public health matters, we have open and frank discussions with ultra-Orthodox members and there's almost always a way to reach an agreement.
    "That said, the current discussions put the sense of solidarity behind the entire field of medicine at risk. We've also seen extremist rabbis decrying the supposed risks of COVID-19 vaccinations while most have stressed the importance of getting the shots. The legislation proposed during the ongoing coalition discussions is unnecessary and downright bigoted and I stand firmly against them."
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    פרופ' ציון חגי
    פרופ' ציון חגי
    Prof. Zion Hagai
    Meital Bonchek of the non-profit Briah Foundation which advances women's rights in Israeli medicine, said: "Religious women have been denied contraception due to the paternalistic view of encouraging birth. We believe that denying any elective procedures based on any ideology is perilous to the fabric of doctor-patient trust. Once foreign considerations enter the mix, patients might think their doctors are concealing other options, thus violating a patient's autonomy over her body.
    "We cannot have a situation where the choice of doctors is dictated by their ideological prism," she added. "They might filter out patients based on religious or other such convictions. In public health, doctors must treat whoever is in front of them according to medical needs and autonomous choices, like it or not."
    Chairman of the Medical Association, Prof. Zion Hagai, has stated that no politician or foreign influence will be allowed to weigh on the relationship between doctors and their patients. "The public health system has always operated in good faith, co-existence and equality. These are the virtues we carry, regardless of gender, ethnic or religious differences. We won't be dragged toward hatred and division."
    Hadas Ziv, an ethics expert for Physicians for Human Rights, said, "Strok is manipulating what it means to decline service, which is originally intended for horrors like supervising torture, forced feedings and others. It was not, however, intended for using religious exemptions. This will disenfranchise underserved communities.
    "Medicine is not and should never be a free market. Strok's suggestion will demonize the doctors you use for elective procedures in lieu of the other doctors who deem themselves on a higher plain of ethics."
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