Nurses Were Right to Resist Pressure to Assist Abortions

Opinion   |   Gerard Nadal, Ph.D.   |   Dec 26, 2011   |   11:40AM   |   Washington, DC

A major victory  for conscience protections last week.

This was indeed a great victory, and the credit goes to twelve brave and principled nurses who stood their ground, and attorney Matt Bowman of the Alliance Defense Fund for his skillful and equally courageous defense of the nurses. There is a fundamental principle at stake here, one that is testing all of our established human anthropology, metaphysics, ethics, and jurisprudence.

Are medical professionals autonomous human beings or vending machines acting at the behest of patients and the state?

A government hospital in New Jersey was extremely backward thinking. They claimed that the medical professionals must assist in procedures that their well-formed consciences told them was inhuman and immoral, legality notwithstanding.

We’ve been here before.

The Nuremberg trials at the end of World War II wrestled with a very difficult decision. Nazi leaders and concentration camp personnel claimed to be following the lawful orders of Adolph Hitler, orders which were indeed lawful under Germany’s constitution, as the constitution had been amended by the people to declare the Fuehrer’s word law. At those trials, every civilized nation in the world stood to declare that Natural Moral Law is universal, and supersedes all manmade (positive) law.

Yes, the orders in Germany were indeed lawful under positive law, but the Natural Moral Law which takes the human nature of all human beings into its view supersedes any positive law which might conflict with the dictates of Natural Law.

On that basis, war criminals were hanged or imprisoned for life.

In Germany, it mattered not whether one actually dropped the gas tablets into the showers, or stood guard in the tower, or prepped the victims for their slaughter. Even today in 2012, those suspected of being camp guards are hunted down and put on trial.

It matters that much.

What Nuremberg tells us is that the human conscience is supreme over all positive law, that men and women in medicine are not inanimate vending machines who must respond mindlessly in the affirmative to all requests. That is the basis of conscience protections for health care workers.

Alarmingly, in medicine there are increasing voices who would take us back to a pre-Nuremberg world where the will reigns supreme over humble submission to universal law which respects universal human nature.

Blessedly, there were principled leaders who took on fascism in the middle of the last century in a conflict that claimed over 50 million human lives, and then charted a course in jurisprudence to help ensure that similar tragedies never befell humanity again. Twenty-five years later, the same US Supreme Court that sent Justice Jackson to preside at Nuremberg lost sight of its great contribution and enshrined in our law the principle that individual will trumps the rights of other human beings. Since then, over 53 million humans have lost their lives because of that decision.

Now we are faced with a series of Nurembergs, each struggling to assert the principle laid down so clearly, forcefully, and eloquently over 60 years ago in Germany.

Blessedly, we have principled leaders and warriors today in people like Matt Bowman of the Alliance Defense Fund, Nikolas Nikas and Dorinda Bordleee of the Bioethics Defense Fund, who speak frequently at medical and law schools about conscience rights, and brave medical professionals who are dedicated to upholding the highest estimation of humanity under the law.

To all of them, Thank You, and a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!