Physicians and LGBT patients: Laws, religious beliefs and medical care

A law passed earlier this month in Mississippi makes it legal for physicians and therapists to opt out of providing care to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) patients on religious grounds--raising legal and ethical questions for the healthcare field, according to a report in The Atlantic.

The law, designed to protect medical professionals who object to gay marriage and sex outside of marriage, allows physicians, psychologists and counselors to choose to opt out of any procedure or choose not to treat a patient if it compromises their conscience, according to the article. Tennessee just passed a similar law that applies only to counselors.

Part of a wave of religious-freedom bills inspired by objections to homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the laws raise questions for hospitals, physician practices and medical associations about what to do about doctors and therapists who don't want to care for LGBT patients because it is against their religious beliefs, The Atlantic says.

Along with moral questions, refusing care to LGBT patients may conflict with federal law, as the Affordable Care Act prohibits such discrimination in any program or facility that receives federal funding, including Medicaid and Medicare, according to the article.

Many transgender patients skip medical care because of poor healthcare experiences. If medical practitioners had more education on how best to manage the healthcare needs of LGBT patients they would be more comfortable working with them, according to a Pacific Standard report. There's a need to strengthen continuing education requirements and medical school curricula to improve care for LGBT Americans, the article says.

An initiative from the National Association of Community Health Centers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is aimed at providing more comprehensive care to LGBT patients, according to a report in The Evening Sun, a Pennsylvania newspaper. The initiative includes 10 sites where medical professionals are asking questions about sexual orientation and gender identify in order to gather health data for the medical community.

To learn more:
- read The Atlantic article
- see the Pacific Standard article
- find The Evening Sun report