In June of this year, a group of ethicists—should I say that I use that term loosely?—issued a “consensus statement” to guide legislation and institutional policy regarding conscientious objection in medicine. Conscientious objection, they explained, “is the refusal to provide a certain medical service, for example an abortion or medical assistance in dying, because it conflicts with the practitioner’s moral views.” Their words, not mine.
They went on to aver that the general medical principle that the care of the patient is paramount, taking priority over the practitioner’s “moral or religious views.” Not that the practitioner must efface his or her self-interest for the sake of the patient’s best interest, pace Dr. Pellegrino, but that moral arguments must take a back seat to “a patient’s desire for a legal, professionally sanctioned medical service.” So, in other words, if the law and the powers that be determine that something is permitted within the bounds of medical practice, all practitioners must submit to that. If they object to, for example, participating in euthanasia when the legislature has deemed this permissible, they must state their reasons—including going before a “tribunal,” if necessary—and refer for the service or perform it themselves if no referral is available. Punishments are in order: “Healthcare practitioners who are exempted from performing certain medical procedures on conscientious grounds should be required to compensate society and the health system for their failure to fulfill their professional obligations by providing public-benefitting services.” I’m not sure whether “by providing public-benefitting services” is intended to modify “compensate” here—that is, the punishment should be community service of some unspecified sort—or to modify “obligations”—that is, construing doctor-assisted suicide and abortion as primary public goods and medical duties.
Further, medical students “should not be exempted” from learning how to perform these acts, because they might need to do so “in an emergency situation.” Well—emergency doctor-assisted suicide? Emergency abortion? In the latter case, certainly procedures to protect a woman’s life in situations that do arise, such as heavy bleeding or the presence of an already-dead fetus should be included, but performance of elective abortions, or of late-term abortions? Rare cases in this last instance may arise, but not to warrant “practice” in elective cases. And, as anyone who went to medical school knows, “see one, do one, teach one.” Learning means doing.
Finally, the tenth and last “principle” is “Healthcare practitioners should also be educated to reflect on the influence of cognitive bias in their objections.” Really, now. Follow the link above and read not just the statement but the often-salty comments that follow, and ask just whose “consensus” this is, and note one commenter’s point about the last principle, related to “cognitive bias,” that “mutatis mutandis, the same principle might be enforced on philosophers.”
Sometimes, civility is the enemy of truth, so I must say here that this is calling evil good, a naked attempt to ram abortion, doctor-assisted suicide, and, by extension, numerous other objectionable practices down the throats of Hippocratic-thinking physicians. There is nothing good to say about this “consensus statement.” It represents no “consensus” at all and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms and resisted steadfastly.
“Hat tip” to Wesley Smith, who flagged it in a blog post, calling it an example of “medical martyrdom,” an attempt to drive people who revere human life and dignity out of the medical professions. See here and here. (Note: National Review Online has folded Smith’s blogging into its “Corner” blog, closing down the separate “Human Exceptionalism” blog, which I, for one, will miss.)