LINCOLN, Neb. — A bill that would prevent psychologists from discriminating against patients based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is reviving a nearly decade-old dispute in Nebraska state government.
Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln said Thursday that her bill would adopt the code of conduct from the American Psychiatric Association, which prevents discrimination of protected classes of people, but does not require professionals to treat patients if they lack expertise or it conflicts with their personal beliefs. The professional would have to provide an adequate referral instead.
Pansing Brooks said the bill will likely not become law, but she hopes it will bring attention to the ongoing problem. She said she hopes it will be resolved internally, but if a conclusion is not reached, she plans to call for a hearing later this year and will “not let this issue die.”
The state Board of Psychology proposed new regulations in 2008, and the following year, the Department of Health and Human Services sent the changes to the Nebraska Catholic Conference for review. Pansing Brooks said she is unsure why the religious organization was given special review.
Officials from the Nebraska Catholic Conference called for a “conscience clause” that would allow professionals to refuse treatment or referrals to patients because of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The board refused to add the clause, saying it violated an ethics principle included in the regulations from the American Psychological Association.
Failure to adopt an anti-discriminatory policy could infringe on constitutional rights, Pansing Brooks said.
Supporters of the measure pointed to the high levels of suicide within the LGBTQ community and said mental health care is necessary. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender people between the ages of 10 to 24.
Supporters also argued the existing regulations, which are 10 years old, create outdated barriers for incoming professionals that hurt recruitment and retention throughout the state.
Opponents contend that faith-based psychologists cannot in good conscience provide referrals to patients for services that go against their belief system, because they don’t believe seeking care for such issues is in the patient’s best interest.
Tom Venzor, the executive director of Nebraska Catholic Conference, said professionals still treat LGBTQ individuals because it is their duty to treat them with “respect, compassion and sensitivity.”
Professionals can treat the individuals for mental health concerns, and if the issue of sexual identity or gender is brought up as a cause of their problems, they can refer the individual to someone else who could better help them, Venzor said.
The committee took no action on the bill Thursday.