Public Comments for 02/11/2021 Health, Welfare and Institutions - Health Professions Subcommittee
SB1178 - Genetic counseling; repeals conscience clause.
Dear members of the Committee, I am writing to you on behalf of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia in opposition of this bill. No patient should have to wonder whether their medical professional will provide them with complete, accurate and unbiased information. Genetic counseling is no different. A counselor's first duty should be to his or her patients. Part of the responsibility of being a genetic counselor is to put the counselor’s own feelings and beliefs aside and give the patient the information they need to in a timely, unbiased manner to help the patient come to their own decision about the health issues they face. The “conscience clause” enables genetic counselors to discriminate against, and even harm, clients with total impunity. The so-called “conscience clause” in place is a blanket license to discriminate. The law’s current language sets a dangerous precedent for other professions and businesses in Virginia where practitioners/owners want to impose their religious beliefs (or deeply held moral beliefs which are undefined) on their patients or clients and refuse to provide services to people who do not believe the same things that they do. The current statute is so extreme that it shields a genetic counselor from accountability even if the counselor takes purposeful action based only on his or her personal beliefs that result in actual physical harm or death to the patient. Removing the clause does not prevent a genetic counselor from practicing their religion, it just makes it so they have to follow medical ethics/genetic counselor ethics, that every person in the medical field SHOULD be bound to follow. At the end of the day, every patient deserves accurate, timely and unbiased medical information. Thank you for your consideration. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions, Galina Varchena, Esq. Policy Director, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia firstname.lastname@example.org.