Doctors in the United States cannot be forced to perform abortions or assist suicides. But that may soon change. Bioethicists and other medical elites have launched a frontal assault against doctors seeking to practice their professions under the values established by the Hippocratic Oath. The campaign’s goal? To force doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others in the health field who hold pro-life or orthodox religious views to choose between their careers and their convictions.
Ethics opinions, legislation, and court filings seeking to deny “medical conscience” have proliferated as journals, legislative bodies, and the courts have taken up the cause. In the last year, these efforts have moved from the relative hinterlands of professional discussions into the center of establishment medical discourse. Most recently, preeminent bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel—one of Obamacare’s principal architects—coauthored with Ronit Y. Stahl an attack on medical conscience in the New England Journal of Medicine, perhaps the world’s most prestigious medical journal. When advocacy of this kind is published by the NEJM, it is time to sound the air raid sirens.
The authors take an absolutist position, claiming that personal morality has no place in medical practice. Under the pretext of “patients’ rights” and a supposed obligation of doctors to adhere to the medical moral consensus—a tyranny of the majority, if you will—Emanuel and Stahl would prohibit doctors from conscientiously objecting to performing requested procedures on moral grounds. From “Physicians, Not Conscripts—Conscientious Objection in Health Care” (my emphasis):
Making the patient paramount means offering and providing accepted medical interventions in accordance with patients’ reasoned decisions. Thus, a health care professional cannot deny patients access to medications for mental health conditions, sexual dysfunction, or contraception on the basis of their conscience, since these drugs are professionally accepted as appropriate medical interventions.
This includes human life–taking actions such as abortion:
[A]bortion is politically and culturally contested, it is not medically controversial. It is a standard obstetrical practice. Health care professionals who conscientiously object to professionally contested interventions may avoid participating in them directly. … Conscientious objection still requires conveying accurate information and providing timely referrals to ensure patients receive care.
Read more at First Things.