Two academic bioethicists want to bar Christians and those who hold other traditional religious beliefs from practicing medicine, and even from attending medical school. The pair fear, as the National Post summarizes, doctors might “impose their values on patients.”
Of course, it is impossible — not unlikely: impossible — for doctors not to impose their values on patients. Even using a tongue depressor on a patient presupposes certain moral values. (Presumably the doctor is doing this to aid in his goal of healing the patient, a moral value.) Since morality infuses all actions, the only real question is this: what moral values should doctors hold?
Julian Savulescu and Udo Schuklenk (I will refer to them as “the SS” hereafter), in their paper “Doctors Have No Right to Refuse Medical Assistance in Dying, Abortion or Contraception” in the journal Bioethics, argue that conscientious objectors not be allowed to train for or to practice medicine. “The problem with conscientious objection,” they write, “is that it has been freely accommodated, if not encouraged, for far too long.”
In their definition, conscientious objectors are those medical professionals who refuse to kill or to disperse contraception for traditional religious reasons. Throughout their paper the SS assume, but never argue, it is a moral good that doctors kill patients when patients demand to be killed, or that doctors kill the lives inside would-be mothers when requested.
“Enlightened, progressive secular countries like Sweden, have labour laws in line with our arguments. Sweden provides no legal right of employees to conscientious objection.” To the SS, the more enlightened and progressive a country is, in effect, the farther it is from Christianity.
The SS say anti-conscientious objection laws have “not had a detrimental effect on applications to these countries’ medical schools.” This must be false. If these laws have been applied, then they have prevented faithful Christians and other religious from (openly) entering these schools. If this turning-away hasn’t happened to many, it proves only how quickly Christianity has faded in these countries.
Religion in Medicine
“We don’t know of any evidence that those with religious beliefs make better medical doctors,” say the SS. This is proof the SS aren’t up on medical history. If it weren’t for Christianity, the tradition of hospitals, nursing, and even doctoring would be far different, notably far less prevalent. They say, “We are deeply sceptical that holding religious beliefs makes one better at the practice of medicine.” But the opposite of these religious beliefs lead to killing patients and the lives inside women, as opposed to healing and preventing death. In their scheme, medicine is no longer what is best for the patient or mankind, but what is most expedient.
They assert contraception is a “social good,” “one of the greatest and most valuable of human achievements.” This is false. It is by definition an anti-human achievement. Where contraception has been adopted, birth rates have plummeted, often below replacement levels. And there are many other detrimental effects (many are listed here).
Who Decides Right and Wrong?
The SS continue with their reasoning:
If society thinks contraception, abortion and assistance in dying are important, it should select people prepared to do them, not people whose values preclude them from participating. Equally, people not prepared to participate in such expected courses of action should not join professions tasked by society with the provision of such services.
That “tasked by society” bit comes dangerously close to arguing that morality can be decided by vote. If a society decides it wants a thing, then that thing is “right.” But then the SS also admit this kind of “ethical relativism is practically ethical nihilism. If one accepted ethical relativism, the holocaust was, from the Nazi’s perspective, right. It is just that today we have a different set of values from the Nazis.” This is true. Ethical relativism is ethical nihilism. And since this is so, theirs is a direct admission that we need seek for morals truths which transcend societies and times.
That truth can be found in the natural law. There is a lot more too it of course, but very briefly, the natural law states that that which goes against human nature is wrong. Impeding the results of sexual intercourse, and the direct killing of innocent human lives are antithetical to human nature, and they are therefore immoral.
Rights Don’t Trump Wrongs
It is important to understand that when doctors have a monopoly over a procedure like surgery, it is not a luxury that they can choose to give or withhold on personal grounds. There are criteria around justice, autonomy and interests that determine whether it is provided. When contraception, abortion or euthanasia are made legal and they become part and parcel of medical services over which doctors have monopoly power, patients do acquire a right to them.
It is an absurd argument that because a thing is legal that therefore people have a “right” to it. Driving is legal; do people therefore have a right to free cars?
Excepting contractual agreements and the like, it is just not true that a doctor is, as the SS say, ethically bound to provide any service asked of him.
Of course, potential employers (like hospitals) may choose not to hire doctors who refuse to kill or dispense contraception. If these acts are legal, this is the employers’ right. And given that legality, it does follow that certain medical schools may also bar entrants who do not promise to abide by that school’s ethics.
The SS have much of the law on their side. But that only demonstrates the well known truth that what is legal is not always what is right. So far, conscientious objection is still legal. Yet the SS gleefully look forward to a time when faithful Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other conscientious objectors are barred from practicing medicine. If we aren’t vigilant, they’ll get their wish.