The Coming of Medical Martyrdom
by Wesley J. Smith
Hippocratic-believing professionals, such as faithful Catholics and Muslims, are increasingly being pressured to practice medicine without regard to their personal faith or conscience beliefs. This moral intolerance is slowly being imbedded into law. Victoria, Australia, for example, legally requires all doctors to perform—or be complicit in—abortions: If a patient requests a legal termination and the doctor has moral qualms, he is required to refer her to a colleague who will do the deed.
Such laws are a prescription for medical martyrdom, by which I mean doctors being forced to choose between adhering to their faith or moral code and remaining in their profession. Some have already suffered for their beliefs. During a speaking tour of Australia in 2010, I met doctors who had moved from their homes in Victoria to escape the abortion imposition. I asked them what they would do if Victoria’s law were to go national. “Quit medicine,” they all said, or move to another country.
Canada is heading in the same direction regarding euthanasia. Quebec legalized doctor-administered death last year and allows no conscience exemptions along the lines of Victoria’s abortion law. Meanwhile, the Canadian Supreme Court just made access to euthanasia a Charter right for those with a diagnosable medical condition that causes “irremediable suffering,” including “psychological” pain. Recognizing that some doctors will have moral qualms about “terminating life,” the Court gave Parliament twelve months to pass enabling legislation, stating that “the rights of patients and physicians will need to be reconciled” by law or left “in the hands of physicians’ colleges.”
That doesn’t bode well for medical conscience rights. Canada’s medical associations have low regard for conscientious objectors. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan recently published a draft ethics policy that would force doctors morally opposed to providing “legally permissible and publicly-funded health services”—which now include euthanasia as well as abortion—to “make a timely referral to another health provider who is willing and able to . . . provide the service.” If no other doctor can be found, the dissenting physician will have to do the deed personally, “even in circumstances where the provision of health services conflicts with physicians’ deeply held and considered moral or religious beliefs.” ... the rest