Doctors have the right to conscientious objection — the right to refuse to perform a service that they feel violates their ethics. A doctor who is pro-life, for example, should not be forced to commit an abortion, or refer a patient to an abortionist. Likewise, a doctor should not be forced to take a patient’s life through assisted suicide, or be complicit in the act by sending them to a doctor that will. The pro-abortion lobby opposes this, of course. To them, doctors should not be allowed to opt out of procedures that they feel are morally wrong. The latest example is a pair of bioethicists who just released a paper arguing that the Canadian government should require all doctors to provide contraception, and commit abortions and assisted suicide.
Queen’s University bioethicist Udo Schuklenk and Oxford bioethicist Julian Savulescu, both professors at their respective universities as well as editors of two major bioethics journals, opine in the journal Bioethics that anyone who is not willing to participate in abortion or assisted suicide based on their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs should not even be allowed to enter medical school. “One problem in countries like Australia, Canada, the UK and the United States face is that they have historically made provision for conscientious objection,” they wrote. “It is unclear, however, why this initial expectation should be decisive in practical policy making. A career in medicine might span 40 years and the field a doctor leaves might be almost unrecognizable from the field she enters. It is clear that the scope of professional practice is ultimately determined by society, and that it is bound to evolve over time.”
So not only should incoming medical students be compelled to participate in abortions and assisted suicide, they say, already-practicing doctors who began practicing with the right to refuse should also not be grandfathered in. “[G]iven that there is an oversupply of people capable and willing to become medical professionals, we should select those willing to provide the full scope of professional services, and those who are most capable,” they argued. “Medical schools and training programmes should carefully outline the nature of the job and screen for conscientious objection where it is relevant to job performance.”
The bioethicists also sneer at the idea of physician integrity, claiming that patient interests come before a person’s integrity. “If this leads to feelings of guilty remorse or them dropping out of the profession, so be it,” they said. They continued, writing, “The place to debate issues of contraception, abortion and euthanasia is at the societal level, not the bedside, once these procedures are legal and a part of medical practice.”
Not surprisingly, this has caused quite a stir, with many people disagreeing with the bioethicists’ argument. Larry Worthen, of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, questioned how so-called bioethicists could really want to punish doctors for being “too ethical.” “The only governments in the history of humanity that have stripped away the conscience rights in this way are totalitarian governments,” Worthen said. “Are we going to get to the point where there’s an ethics test at the beginning of medical school, and if you have too much in the way of ethics, you’re going to be screened out?”
While there isn’t a national mandate yet in Canada, Ontario’s College of Physicians and Surgeons does require physicians to either perform an abortion themselves or refer the patient to someone who will, meaning that a doctor cannot choose to opt out due to a conscientious objection. Several groups in Ontario are challenging that rule.
In an interview with LifeSiteNews, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Alex Schadenberg called the proposal to ban conscientious objection for physicians “ridiculous” and said that it was constitutionally protected in Canada. He also claimed that conscientious objection isn’t just for the protection of the doctor, but for the patient as well. “When I’m at my lowest time in my life, I don’t want my doctor to be thinking, ‘If I don’t kill this guy or send him to someone who will kill him, that I’m going to lose my medical license,’” he said. “I want my doctor to look me in the eye and say, ‘I’m not going to do this. … I have the right to say ‘No’ to you. I will care for you, but I will not kill you.’” According to Schadenberg, Schuklenk and Savulescu want to turn doctors into nothing more than computers. “Someone can go up, put in their order and they can get what they want. But to me that’s a ridiculous situation. Human beings should never be treated like computers, nor are they like that.”
And while Schuklenk and Savulescu repeatedly claim that there is no shortage of doctors willing to commit abortion and assisted suicides, that may not be the truth — and if it was, why would they need to force physicians to participate? In reality, Canadian hospitals and physicians have refused to participate in assisted suicide, much to the consternation of euthanasia advocacy organizations. Likewise, the abortion lobby has long been worrying about how to get more medical students to become abortionists, as fewer and fewer medical students are choosing to learn how to perform abortions… while the ones who do go down that path are reportedly shunned. Abortionists also frequently complain that they get no respect, and are looked down upon.
So perhaps the question becomes this: if there is such an oversupply of doctors willing to perform abortions and assisted suicides, then why do these bioethicists find it necessary to force physicians to participate?