Previously, I posted a link to a Tennessee bill which gives permission to counselors to refer clients over conflicts with a counselor’s “sincerely held beliefs.”
Last week, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed the bill into law. His reasoning was summarized in a statement after he signed the bill:
The following is the Gov. Haslam’s statement on Senate Bill 1556 (http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/109/Amend/HA1006.pdf):
“Although Senate Bill 1556 has received attention for its perceived focus, my job is to look at the actual substance of the legislation. After considerable thought and discussion with counselors both for and against the bill, I have decided to sign Senate Bill 1556. There are two key provisions of this legislation that addressed concerns I had about clients not receiving care. First, the bill clearly states that it ‘shall not apply to a counselor or therapist when an individual seeking or undergoing counseling is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others.’ Secondly, the bill requires that any counselor or therapist who feels they cannot serve a client due to the counselor’s sincerely held principles must coordinate a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy,” Haslam said.
“The substance of this bill doesn’t address a group, issue or belief system. Rather, it allows counselors – just as we allow other professionals like doctors and lawyers – to refer a client to another counselor when the goals or behaviors would violate a sincerely held principle. I believe it is reasonable to allow these professionals to determine if and when an individual would be better served by another counselor better suited to meet his or her needs.”
The bill was signed by the speakers on April 13 and transmitted to the governor for action on April 15.
The bill language is available at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/109/Amend/HA1006.pdf.
While I appreciate the amendments requiring care in cases of homicidal or suicidal risk, I don’t support this bill. This bill allows discriminatory actions toward anyone, including religious people, based on a vague condition of a counselor’s conflict involving “sincerely held principles.” While I believe some conflicts could be so great that a referral would be the best course of action in the immediate situation, this bill points counselors in another direction. For mental health care to be fully integrated with health care, a value of treating all people is required. I don’t want a health care system where providers are allowed to delay care based on personal disagreements with patients. I do think providers should be allowed to decline performing certain treatments (e.g., abortion, hypnosis, EMDR, etc.) but I don’t think a referral based on personal disagreement should be the norm in health care.