Human Exceptionalism

MD Wrong to Refuse Lesbians’ Baby Care

A pediatrician in Michigan refused to take a baby as a patient because the child’s parents are a married lesbian couple. From the USAToday story:

But as Jami and Krista Contreras sat in the exam room, waiting to be seen for their newborn’s first checkup, another pediatrician entered the room and delivered a major blow: The doctor they were hoping for had a change of heart. After “much prayer,” she decided that she couldn’t treat their baby because they are lesbians.

This is apparently legal in MI, but since the doctor had initially agreed to take the patient, I think it is unethical.

But Wesley, you support protecting medical conscience!

Indeed, I do. But this isn’t an example of the kind of case in which conscience protections should apply.

Why? Medical conscience should protect doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others from performing or being complicit in procedures they find morally or religiously unacceptable. Hence, as I just wrote in “The Coming of Medical Martyrdom,” no professional should be ever required to take human life, as in abortion or euthanasia. 

Alas, that storm cloud is already on the horizon, and indeed, is hailing on Hippocratic physicians in Australia and Canada, among other jurisdictions.

But the Michigan doctor objected to the patient–or more precisely, the relationship between the patient’s parents. That’s not the same.

Back in 2009, I proposed a formula for analyzing these cases. Here are a few of those points:

Except in rare and compelling circumstances in which a patient’s life is at stake, no medical professional should be compelled to perform or participate in procedures or treatments that take human life.

– The rights of conscience should apply most strongly in elective procedures , that is, medical treatments not required to extend the life of, or prevent serious harm to, the patient.

– It should be the procedure that is objectionable, not the patient. In this way, for example, physicians could not refuse to treat a lung-cancer patient because the patient smoked or to maintain the life of a patient in a vegetative state because the physician believed that people with profound impairments do not have a life worth living.

– No medical professional should ever be forced to participate in a medical procedure intended primarily to facilitate the patient’s lifestyle preferences or desires (in contrast to maintaining life or treating a disease or injury).

But doesn’t the last point apply to the pediatrician’s refusal? No. The patient is the baby, not the parents. 

But this brings up another issue: We are now a morally polyglot society and are told that tolerance is the answer to conflicts that arise.

Fine. Legality and ethical obligations aside, if we are truly going to get along, tolerance has to be a two-way street.​ In some cases, that means shrugging off slights, real and perceived, and simply moving on.

In this situation, why the couple would want a doctor to care for their daughter–particularly with other physicians readily available–who profoundly disagrees with the moral propriety of their marriage, is beyond me.


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