Few doctors take the Hippocratic Oath anymore. But many still believe in its maxims, including not to perform abortions, assist in suicides, or otherwise harm patients or other human life.
Conscience clauses are controversial. President Obama said at Notre Dame that he believes in them–but his Administration is currently seeking to revoke the Bush conscience clause. Meanwhile, many medical groups support the deprofessionalization of medicine by arguing that doctors must do what their patients request, particularly in the area of reproductive health.
I opine again about this important issue in the Center for Bioethics and Culture newsletter. From my piece:
Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who refuse to participate in life-terminating procedures send a clarion message to society that killing in the medical context is morally wrong. By protecting the conscience rights of these courageous professionals, we also protect the weak and vulnerable who are increasingly threatened by the growing influence of utilitarian bioethics. Or, to put it more bluntly: The life you save by supporting conscience clauses could be your own.
This issue will be a huge fight in coming years involving not only abortion and assisted suicide, but potentially embryonic stem cell research and the creation of “savior siblings,” particularly if the sibling is going to become an organ donor or be aborted for tissues. We are entering into uncharted territory and maintaining the right of dissenting medical professionals to maintain to Hippocratic values by refusing legal procedures–and in the process, sending a powerful moral message–will be crucial to the future of ethical medicine.