Monday, July 17, 2006

In the news: Medical professionals' conscience rights

WaPo reports on the continuing debate over the right of medical professionals to refuse to perform certain procedures on the basis of moral objections. Snip:
Proponents of a 'right of conscience' for health workers argue that there is nothing more American than protecting citizens from being forced to violate their moral and religious values. Patient advocates and others point to a deep tradition in medicine of healers having an ethical and professional responsibility to put patients first.

The issue is driven by the rise in religious expression and its political prominence in the United States, and by medicine's push into controversial new areas. And it is likely to intensify as doctors start using embryonic stem cells to treat disease, as more states legalize physician-assisted suicide and as other wrenching issues emerge.
Some argue that health workers should not even be required to refer patients elsewhere for care they find objectionable.

"Think about slavery," said physician William Toffler of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. "I am a blacksmith and a slave owner asks me to repair the shackles of a slave. Should I have to say, 'I can't do it but there's a blacksmith down the road who will?' "

Others say that professional responsibility trumps personal belief.

"As soon as you become a licensed professional, you take on certain obligations to act like a professional, which means your patients come first," said R. Alta Charo, a bioethicist and lawyer at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "You are not supposed to use your professional status as a vehicle for cultural conquest." Link.

As a frequent flyer in the world of medical services, count me among those who want our doctors, nurses, pharmacists, therapists, and others to leave their moral objections out of the exam room.

Before joining the legal profession, I had to decide whether I could live with working as an advocate for somebody who did stuff I found morally repugnant. I decided that I'd have a hard time working on behalf of someone who I believed to be guilty of a crime, and that meant I wouldn't be able to fulfill the professional obligations of a criminal defense lawyer. So I don't do that kind of work. But for pretty much everything else, I don't feel guilty by association.

Seems reasonable to expect medical professionals to be similarly responsible for finding work within whatever moral boundaries they have.


mdmhvonpa said...

I wonder if it is all possible to find a middle ground here. Some sort of waiver or such that would inform patients before-hand what can be expected from the professional. Market forces would do the rest.

Jaime said...

I have to agree. Just as Church and State are supposed to be separate (although sometimes I wonder) it should be the same within the workplace, no matter what work that is (unless you are working at a religious affiliated organization). Whenever I go to the hospital they always ask me if there is a religious affiliation I want to list (this way they can know my wishes, etc....i.e. some religions are against blood transfusions). That should be the extent of it...unless the patient asks for something specifically (i.e. a priest for last rights).

Anonymous said...

I think it would be nice if there were labels or letters after a doctors name that can identify if they are Pro life or not and won't do abortions or dole out contraceptives. I am Catholic and don't see anything wrong with all all conscientious Pro Life proponent that are doctors saying they won't do abortions or give out contraceptives. Nothing wrong to me, they could tell everyone up front that is there view and if a patient wanted that service they could go elsewhere.