Conscience Clauses Needed Worldwide for Medical Professionals

Opinion   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Dec 19, 2011   |   11:59AM   |   Washington, DC

The moral conscience of health care providers is under attack. Increasingly they are being forced to provide medical services that go against their moral beliefs

Wesley J. Smith has a great piece in the Daily Caller on how laws all over the world are making it harder for medical professionals to opt out of procedures that go against their moral code. Smith focuses on Australia where where all doctors are required to perform abortions or refer to a doctor who will and The Netherlands where there is a push to require doctors to comply with requests for assisted suicide, and Washi

It is becoming increasingly clear that medical professionals who wish to continue in the Hippocratic tradition will face increasing pressure to yield their consciences to the desires of patients and the reigning moral cultural paradigm.

Progressives likely cheer erosions of conscience protections for health care providers because emergency contraception, abortion and assisted suicide are issues they champion. But I want to look farther into the future to see how a lack of conscience clauses will affect the medical profession.

When cloning becomes a reality, there will be a cry to make reproductive cloning or cloning-to-produce children a reality. IVF clinics will be bombarded with requests to clone patients. Some IVF doctors are already cloning for research, they have the eggs needed and the facilities so it would be natural that they clone to make babies as well. They are in the baby-making business after all. And some people think cloning is their reproductive right:

“My decision to clone myself should not be the government’s business, or Cardinal O’Conner’s, anymore than a woman’s decision to have an abortion is. Cloning is highly significant. Its part of the reproductive rights of every human being.” –Randy Wicher, cloning activist

But what if an IVF practitioners doesn’t want to clone babies? What if they find it morally repugnant? Get rid of conscience clauses and that IVF doctor has no legal right to refuse to clone whoever walks through the clinic door.

What happens in the future when transhumanism has taken hold? Transhumanism is a movement that would use technology not to cure or treat disease but to enhance otherwise healthy individuals beyond normal human abilities. Transhumanists would like nothing more than to chop off their perfectly good limb and replace it with an artificial one that performs better. They would love to have unlimited access to cognitive enhancing drugs or be able to genetically engineer themselves or their offspring.

But what if a surgeon doesn’t want to amputate a healthy limb and replace it with an artificial one? What if that surgeon thinks making a healthy person into cyborg is morally wrong?

What if a pharmacist doesn’t want to dispense cognitive enhancing drugs to healthy people because he or she knows the risks of such drugs? What if he or she believes cognitive enhancements for normal individuals is morally wrong?

What if doctors who perform gene therapy for muscle wasting diseases are asked to genetically alter a normal man to have an unnatural amount of muscle? What if that doctor is asked to enhance children the same way? What if he or she believes that genetically altering healthy people or children without informed consent is morally wrong?

Take away conscience protections and these medical professionals will have no choice but to comply with their patient’s requests. Even if they know these procedures are dangerous and carry great risks, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists may be compelled to participate. Or if they are morally opposed to operating on healthy people, they will no longer have a choice simply because their “patient’s rights” trump their right to make moral decisions.

Conscience clauses are not just about contraception, abortion and assisted suicide. Their importance is far greater than that. We must give health care providers the ability to listen to their conscience or we maybe forcing them to participate in cloning, enhancements, or whatever else biotechnology has in store. Be careful what you wish for. Those who support removing conscience protections now, may have cloning, cyborgs, genetically enhanced children and other morally repugnant technologies shoved down their throats in the future. Note: Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for five years and has been interviewed on EWTN radio on topics from stem cell research and cloning to voting pro-life. Taylor has a B.S. in Biochemistry from University of San Francisco with a national certification in clinical Molecular Biology MB (ASCP).