‘A patient has the right to be referred to another medical practitioner’

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MANILA, Philippines—A government representative to the final rounds of oral arguments on the Reproductive Health Law (RH Law) on Tuesday defends the right of a patient to be referred to another health-care provider if the medical practitioner thinks the service being asked is against his or her religious and political beliefs.

“To not refer is to create a victim in that patient,” said Florin Hilbay, Senior State Solicitor of the Office of the Solicitor General, in defense to arguments that the requirement of the RH Law that obligates a medical practitioner to refer a patient to another health-service provider is “unconstitutional.”

Petitioners argued that the duty to refer is unconstitutional as “it compels a conscientious objector . . . to become a party to an act forbidden by his faith.”

Under the RH Law, Hilbay said a doctor should refer a patient to another doctor, or any health-service provider, if he/she thinks that the service being asked for is against his/her personal beliefs.

Hilbay said a hospital is not a public forum for the exercise of free speech.

“A person who visits a hospital is looking for a person of science, not a theologian. She, therefore, expects expert medical advice, not religious instruction or a political debate,” Hilbay said, noting that the duty to refer is not a “political duty,” but a professional duty.

He said a patient becomes a victim when he/she is denied of access to information or services related to reproductive health.

Hiblay is the last speaker from the government side in the series of oral arguments on the constitutionality of the RH Law.

For her part, Senator Pia Cayetano, a principal sponsor of the law, said the requirement is constitutional as the law “is not imposing any burden to anyone.”

It only seeks to protect the right of every Filipino to health-care services.

“Wala tayong pinipilit. Kung ayaw ng doctor ibigay, nandon pa din sa kanyang responsibilidad na i-refer ang pasyente sa ibang doctor, or health worker na makakaasikaso sa pangangailangan ng pasyente,” Cayetano said.

She said penalties may be imposed on a medical professional who would refuse to give correct information, or if he/she would give wrong information.

Meanwhile, Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, asked Hilbay if a doctor should still make referrals if he/she believes a particular reproductive health medication is “unsafe or harmful” to a woman.

“If a doctor sincerely believes that what was provided by the government is not safe, is it ethical for that doctor to refer that someone to another doctor to prescribe that same prescription to that woman?” De Castro asked.

Hilbay answered that the act of referral may “not necessarily be right,” but insisted that it is still the duty of the doctor to refer the patient to another doctor.

The fifth and final round of oral arguments was concluded around 6:30 p.m.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno issued a series of questions to Hilbay’s team to answer in a memoranda within 60 days.

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