Human Exceptionalism

Should Doctors Have the Right to Say No to Abortion?

We hear from some, such as Dr. Sherwin Nuland, that what a doctor does or does not do at the bedside should be determined by the individual practioner’s personal conscience. This usually cuts from the side of permitting acts such as euthanasia–as Nuland asserted in the New England Journal of Medicine–and to justify futile care theory.

On the flip side, some have said that pharmacists should be able to refuse to fill a prescription for contraception and RU 486. Along this line, there is a growing revolt among doctors in the UK about performing abortions. From the story in the Daily Mail:

Rising numbers of doctors are refusing to carry out abortions, leading to a crisis in NHS provision. The stance by staff, taken on ethical grounds, has led to a doubling of abortions carried out by private clinics, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

The swell of medical staff joining the unprecedented moral revolt means that there may soon not be enough doctors to carry out sufficient terminations to meet the public demand…

James Gerrard, a GP in Leeds, said: “Out of the six doctors in our practice, three of us object to abortion. I had made up my mind on abortion before entering the medical profession. I feel the foetus is a person and killing that foetus is wrong.”…

Staff at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in North London is introducing a code of ethics for its resident GPs and other staff. Anyone working there will not be able to offer any service which conflicts with Catholic teaching on the value of human life or sexual ethics.

If this spreads to the USA, expect a huge battle with some advocating that doctors be required to perform abortions or not practice medicine–or at least ob/gyn–which I believe is already proposed in New York. Others will promote professional “choice” in all aspects of care, from assisted suicide to acceding to the requests of “amputee wannabes.”

In a morally polyglot society, it is hard to know what the right answer is. As for my opinion, if a medical procedure is legal–it is legal. At the same time, I support conscience refusals so long as notice is given to patients in advance–unless doing so would endanger life (as in an ectopic pregnancy) or lead to serious health risks for the patient. What say y’all?

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