An op/ed in today’s Baltimore Sun has two doctors insisting that physicians refer patients for abortions if they don’t wish to do the deed themselves. (The term used is reproductive health, and so it isn’t only abortion to which they refer–but it is part of what is meant by the but euphemism.) In complaining about the Bush conscience regulation, that protects health care workers from being discriminated against if they refuse to participate in health procedures they find morally offensive or that is against their religion, the doctors support the must-refer approach. From the column:
As health care providers, we are, at the very least, obligated to provide all patients with appropriate referrals–even if we do not participate in or agree with the care. Our personal morality does not enter into it. For example, we cannot refuse to treat a drug user for his drug-induced heart attack just because we are morally opposed to drug use. Nor can a doctor deny a blood transfusion to a woman who lost blood in a fight, even though he or she is opposed to violence. How, then, can we allow a receptionist, doctor, nurse or janitor to turn away a women seeking birth control at a clinic that provides such services just because the employee thinks premarital sex is wrong?
I wish these kind of columns had the courage to argue the actual issues primarily involved rather than side matters that are either irrelevant or extremely rare. Be that as it may, forcing a doctor refer a patient to a provider that he or she knows will do the abortion or assist the suicide is to force the referring doctor to be complicit in those acts. Thus, while there certainly should be cooperation in transferring records from the original doctor to a replacement if a patient decides to go that route, no dissenting physicians should not be required ethically to participate directly or indirectly in acts that explicitly violate the Hippocratic Oath.
I don’t think the Bush guidelines are the perfect answer, and as I have written, a lot more thought needs to go into who is covered and under what circumstances by the conscience issue. And as I have also written, I think a distinction needs to be made between elective and non elective procedures, as well as between offending procedures and patients.
But I do believe that if the culture of death prevails legally, we should not permit dissenting health care providers to be driven out of medicine or force facilities such as Catholic hospitals that follow contrary moral teaching to be forced to choose between violating their beliefs and closing their doors.
HT: Holy Terror