Conscience rights for physicians – do they matter for patients?
We can all understand why conscience rights matter to doctors – they want the freedom to practice medicine in a way that does not conflict with their moral or religious beliefs. As an employee, we should all have that freedom to follow our conscience without fear of career repercussions.
But do conscience rights also matter for patients? At ARPA Canada, we believe they matter deeply. They matter in the selection of medical care providers, in our relationship with our medical care providers, and because of the reason why conscience rights are even in question.
First of all, knowing your conscience rights will not be protected could have an impact on your willingness to apply to medical school. If receiving a medical degree requires a med student to successfully perform an abortion, successfully administer a lethal dose to a patient to assist in their suicide, or even prescribe an abortifacient birth control, no principled Christian would make it through, (not to mention those from many other religious traditions). Eliminating many religious people from the profession of doctors and nurses will greatly impact facilities run by Catholic churches, old age homes run by Reformed churches, and many principled Christian family doctors and specialists.
After medical school, conscience rights continue to impact both doctors and patients. Knowing their doctor will never recommend euthanasia can give a patient a sense of peace that their life is valued and protected by their doctor. Likewise, a deeply committed pre-natal mother wants to have access to a doctor who values the life of her pre-born child, despite any disability the child might have. Viewing your doctor as your or your child’s potential killer creates a tension in the doctor-patient relationship that will break down trust.
Perhaps most concerning when it comes to conscience rights is the reason why they are even in question. Conscience rights are never challenged when a doctor recommends diet and exercise for a patient wanting dramatic liposuction, or when a doctor refuses to do, for example, a tongue splitting. Doctors regularly advise patients on the best course of action for their health, and often patients may disagree. There is no consequence for a doctor in these cases.
Conscience rights come into question when the issue is politically charged, forcing activist pressure into doctors’ offices. Doctors who dare to question political-medical trends are demonized and lose prestigious positions as a result of their views. If a doctor refuses to perform an assisted suicide, recommends counseling instead of a penectomy for a gender dysphoric male, or declines to provide a requested abortion in a remote community where a woman has few other options, suddenly his judgment is questioned. When feelings and politics trump careful research, patients suffer.
Consider the transgender movement. Puberty blocking drugs and synthetic opposite-sex hormones are being given younger and younger, and some of the effects are irreversible. A female’s voice will deepen permanently, a man’s bone density will be decreased forever, and chances of sterility for both are close to 100%. This is an emerging field, and the long-term impact of many of these drugs is not well-known. Researchers are uncertain of the lasting effects, yet doctors are prescribing these incredibly controversial “therapies” to patients after only a few visits. Stories from people who de-transitioned (back to their biological sex) speak of the harms these drugs caused them, as well as their wish that the underlying psychological conflicts had been addressed prior to attempting to change genders.
Patients suffer when a doctor uses experimental treatments on them out of fear of offending the politically correct cause du jour. The fact that conscience rights are so politically charged should concern us all. Freedom of speech and freedom of conscience are inextricably linked, and need to be defended for the same reason. All Canadians should be advocating for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc. to have strong legal conscience rights. You cannot treat a doctor like a vending machine where you decide what you want and it gets spit out. You go to a doctor for their professional advice. That professional advice is based on their education, experience, and best judgment, all of which are grounded in their moral convictions.
As Christians, we look beyond individual conscience rights for doctors to the larger impact on patients. We must advocate for a medical system that allows, and even demands, that doctors act with integrity. Where doctors are free to think and act for themselves, there is more likely to be testing of ideas and challenging of assumptions within the medical profession, and that is definitely a good thing for patients.