The Corner

Health Care

Argentinian Doctor Sentenced to Prison for Refusing to Terminate Pregnancy

In Sweden, midwives can be fired and deemed unemployable for refusing abortion. In Ontario Canada, doctors can face professional discipline for refusing to administer (or refer for) euthanasia. Ditto to refusing an abortion in Victoria, Australia. In California, a Catholic hospital is being sued–with the explicit blessing of the courts–for refusing to allow a transgender hysterectomy.

But now in Argentina, the right to obtain an abortion has been declared so fundamental that an objecting M.D. can be held criminally culpable for refusing to terminate a pregnancy.

That would seem to be a moral and legal impossibility. But Argentina just elevated the “medical conscience” controversy to a whole new level of concern — from the potential of not “only” having one’s professional license revoked, but also, to the loss of personal freedom for refusing to act against personal conscience based on deeply held religious, moral, or professional beliefs. From the BioEdge story:

An Argentine court has upheld the criminal conviction of a gynaecologist who refused to abort the child of a rape victim in 2017. Dr Leandro Rodriguez Lastra was sentenced to a 14-month suspended jail term, plus 28 months of disqualification from holding public office. Dr Rodriguez Lastro will appeal.

The victim was a 19-year-old in her fifth month of pregnancy, the result of sexual abuse by a relative. At first she used an abortion drug provided by an NGO. That failed and she was referred to the hospital where Rodríguez Lastra was head of gynecology.

The doctor said that abortion posed a risk to both the unborn child and the mother. However, the judges said that the only thing necessary for a legal termination of pregnancy was a formal request from the rape victim.

The child was later given up for adoption.

Good grief, it’s almost as if the court considered the doctor to be a co-conspirator with the rapist.

Adding to the topsy-turvy nature of that decision, instead of being dead the baby is alive in the world. Shouldn’t that outcome, at least, be a cause for celebration instead of condemnation in this difficult circumstance?

How can a doctor be imprisoned for obeying the Hippocratic Oath? Lastra is a licensed professional and the court decided that refusing to abort constituted a “failure to comply with the duties of a public official,” which was an affront to the mother’s “autonomy.” The BioEdge story quoted the court’s ruling:

“Faced with the intersection of so many vulnerabilities, the accused ignored the autonomy of the young woman, giving priority to the reproductive function that she symbolized as a woman, over her dignity, over her right to health and to be informed, accompanied, contained and respected in the process of interrupting the pregnancy, an interruption to which she had a right over any other right or interest”.

“ … ignoring a woman’s voice, ignoring her vital needs, subjugating reproductive rights, devastating the psyche and enslaving the body in order to force pregnancy after a rape, means denying the victim’s status as a subject of rights and is the incarnation of gender violence in its most painful form”.

And here’s a telling twist to the story: A few years ago, a different Argentinian court granted an orangutan a writ of habeas corpus to be released from a zoo. So, an ape was declared a wrongfully imprisoned “person,” while a doctor was declared a criminal for refusing to take innocent human life.

I can write those words. I understand their meaning. But I can’t comprehend such an utter rejection of human exceptionalism.

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