Should the morals of doctors impact their patients?

Abortion bill’s rights ‘breach’

You’ll find a link to a petition at the end of this article. This is a plea to offer women in Northern Ireland the same rights available to those in the UK. If you are a UK citizen, please consider reading and signing if you agree with it.

Catholic groups in Australia have recently issue threats to withdraw their medical services, and most recently claimed a bill requiring doctors unwilling to perform abortions to refer to a doctor willing to carry out the procedure is a breach of their human rights.

Catholics have the fingers in a lot of pies around the world. They run quite a few services, such as schools an hospitals, and they receive government funding or subsidy, even if just in the form of various tax exemptions.

The question is, should a doctor be able to deny a patient treatment because their own moral compass tells them to do so? The answer to this is a firm no. The doctors aren’t being legally required to carry-out abortions, they are simply having to refer elsewhere.

Why shouldn’t we respect their moral decisions?

Actually we should. Doctors shouldn’t be the blind tools of the state, or any other organisation for that matter. This is an important principle, since to require doctors to always obey the state would be to absolve them of any personal responsibility.

What if the state passes a law requiring that all an undersirable section of society should be sterilised? Doctors are morally required to refuse to carry out such a procedure, but then it’s quite right that they expect to be dismissed from their positions. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, and there’s often a sacrifice to be made.

In the same vein, doctors should not be forced to perform abortions or euthanasia, but they should expect that if the law requires them to do so, they should refuse and be fired.

Doctors offer invaluable advice to their patients, since they have a great deal of education and experience that most patients lack. Abortion is an unpleasant and mentally damaging procedure. No-one in the right mind uses abortion as a substitute for contraception, and it’s silly to claim that legalised abortion somehow makes it desirable. Legalised abortion is the lesser of two evils in many cases. Do you force a woman to carry a baby to term if it’s known that the child is going to be unable to survive outside the womb? What about the case of a rape victim? The mother and the doctor need to discuss this, with the doctor making all options available and offering expert advice, not their own superstitious beliefs. God will not punish you for having an abortion, mainly because God probably doesn’t exist.

Catholic doctors who believe that referring to another doctor for an abortion is a violation of their religion should stand by their convictions, but they should not expect to retain their job. A vegetarian couldn’t train to become a butcher, and then object to handling meat, so why should a doctor be any different?

What happens if doctors are allowed to let their morals guide their patients’ treatment?

Patients will not receive the treatment they deserve. What’s to stop a Jehovah’s witness from refusing to offer blood transfusions to patients? Could a Muslim doctor refuse to treat a female patient?

You could argue that Jehovah’s witnesses and Muslims would go ahead and treat the patient, since the general consenus in their religions may allow for that, but that’s not always true. Even within a single religion, followers do not agree on all aspects of it. Not all Catholics believe that contraception is a sin, but some do. Not all Hindus believe that dalits are entitled to fewer rights, but some do. It’s impossible to agree on the one-true rule, since religion is not a rational thing.

But patients can just go to another doctor

That’s not always possible. Consider small towns, or people who can’t afford to travel across the state or county. What do they do? The same problem is seen in Catholic-run schools. Yes parents can look for alternatives, but what do they do if the alternative is impractical?

Who should have the rights here? The teacher/doctor who is refusing to do their job due to their personal superstitions, or the student/patient who is trying to seek the services that their taxes paid for? Should a police officer chose between the law of the land, or could they decide to enforce Sharia law?

Why should religion be treated any differently?

What if I as a doctor decide one day that germ theory is blasphemy, so I stop offering treatments based on it, and I refuse to refer my patients to a doctor who is a little more sensible than I? I have no religion to back that up, but surely that’s just as valid as the stance that some Catholic doctors wish to take.

What if I don’t like asians? Should I also be free to refuse treating those soulless devils? No, my job is to provide impartial and expert services. If those services should conflict with my moral beliefs, I need to get out of the way and hand over my position to someone who is willing to do the job.

This situation is yet another example of why we shouldn’t farm out these services to religiously motivated groups, unless they can offer their services without strings attached. There should be no such thing as a Catholic hospital, it is simply a hospital.

If churches want to run schools and hospitals according to their own rules, then they should stop applying for funding and tax exemptions. Pay for it themselves, and then decide their own rules. The money could instead be given to organisations willing to offer services in a rational manner that puts the patient first.

Northern Ireland Abortion Rights


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