The chief ethical failings of the act are the ignoring of established professional obligations and the complete oversight of individuals who these professionals serve. Just as medical doctors adhere to a code outlining the ethically proper way to serve patients, social workers abide by the Code of Ethics; the ethical principles of the discipline. A person with the most rudimentary understanding of the Code of Ethics can recognize the ethical conflicts the bill imposes. If it is a social worker’s mission to end discrimination, then it stands to reason that the mission is largely compromised when rejection of certain individuals is sanctioned. If social work strategies are the core mechanisms in the social arena for challenging institutions that fail members of society, then submitting to provisions of this legislation is a breach of fiduciary duty.
Proponents of the bill claim that condoning refusal of care to specific groups of individuals is not the bill’s essence, and that it only applies to health services. Such reasoning illustrates that conscientious objection legislation is depersonalizing in nature, and blatantly disregards the needs, and inherent dignity and worth of human beings. Health services and the recipients of these services cannot be isolated from one another. Furthermore, the inability to measure the sincerity of conscientious objection, and the impossibility of monitoring every objection expressed increases the danger of at-risk clients being at the mercy of a health provider with ill-intentions. It is recognized that the outcome of legislation cannot be predicted, yet logic offers that sanctioned discrimination of the vulnerable will increase their susceptibility to institutional injustice. Existing clients will retract from services, and recoil back on victimhood due to feelings of betrayal spawned by those who are presumed as competent and caring; those who are supposed to guide them toward self-sufficiency, self-discovery, and self-realization. For the same reason, potential clients are liable to avoid services all together.
Legitimizing the “Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act” will strain the social equality efforts of social workers beyond these chief ethical failings. Potential hazards include: endangerment of the reputation of social work professionals and the profession-at large; depletion of educational standards and possible problematic issues on accreditation for universities and training programs; enforcement of sub par practice standards; and curtailment of data collection needed for evidence-based strategies for oppressed populations. The bill’s intention may protect the religious freedom of health service providers as it intends, but at the price of the freedom and well-being of an equally dignified, valuable group of people. It breeds ethical misconduct and practice negligence.
It is imperative that social workers increase their awareness and deepen their understanding of legislation which carries significant implications. A competent social worker embraces and acts upon their responsibility to advocate; to engage in social action for the betterment of society. To this end, involvement in the legislative process is necessary. To voice an opinion, contact the Senate Committee on Health Policy, the legislative decision makers of the “Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act”. It is a crucial time to exercise a professional’s primary tool for empowering those vulnerable to this legislation; the tool of advocacy.
Take Action Today!
Nichole Gabriel is a BSW candidate at Madonna University.