The right to access healthcare
It is reasonable for a person seeking health services to expect to be treated with dignity, respect, and above all receive the healthcare they need. In the exceptional case that a clinician is unable to provide the requested service for any reason, the client should be given clear information on who may be able to help them and be referred accordingly.
It is for this reason that we, as an organisation, oppose the inclusion of the conscientious objection clause as drafted by the Malta Medical Council to be included in the Equality Bill. The proposed clause is basically a blank cheque for professionals to refuse to offer services to clients on vague moral grounds, it has no safeguards to ensure clients’ safety is not jeopardised, and does not require the professional to give their clients information on where they could get the help they need.
The Equality Act, once enacted, will be an ambitious legislation that will seek to take down barriers to services, including healthcare. It must not be watered down with amendments that seek to introduce loopholes that will render the Act ineffective. Conscientious objection must be tightly regulated to ensure the safety of clients, and should be incorporated into laws that deal primarily with the regulation of professions rather than the Equality Act.
Conscientious objection should be limited to very specific procedures, it should not allow professionals to discriminate between clients according to protected characteristics, and must also be the exception rather the norm, otherwise people’s access to healthcare will be severely impacted.
If our government truly believes in improving access to services by the most disadvantaged in our society, it should not accept the amendment as proposed. The amendment is too biased in favour of professionals who object, and also seeks to penalise those who do not object by making their contact details publicly available, possibly opening them up to harassment. If accepted, conscientious objection is likely to become the norm rather than the exception, and this is not right. A better balance between the rights of professionals and clients has to be reached.
Dr Christopher Barbara firstname.lastname@example.org