November 15, 2011

Conscience Battle Rages in NJ, Outcome Will Affect All

The fight for conscience rights continues.  Over the past few weeks, a group of nurses, aided by the Alliance Defense Fund, has stood against the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.  These nurses have stated that the hospital established a policy that forced them to assist in abortions at the hospital.  If they refused, their jobs would be on the line.  Many of us who have been concerned about conscience rights continue to watch this case closely, for it could be the harbinger of what may come in the future.  Over the past few years, we have seen the rights of pharmacists eroded quite openly, followed by cases of nurses’ rights being taken away.  After the case in New York, we now have this case.  How much longer before there are outright attacks on physicians?  Or medical students?  If the hospital, who receives Federal funding, is able to justify its policy and thus ‘win’, then very soon we may see medical schools requiring students to participate in a curriculum including abortion training.  The battle against conscience freedom continues on and soon we will know which direction that battle goes.  Many will argue that this is an issue of religious freedom. However, if we continue to use this as justification of conscience rights, then we will not be able to recapture the true nature of medicine. Rather, even if conscience rights are recognized, those of us who oppose abortion, contraception, and euthanasia will continue to be further marginalized.  Instead, we must make this an issue of natural law and a return of medicine to its true nature and intention.  Conscience rights are not solely about the provider, but concern the patient as well. In 2009 I wrote a paper for the Linacre Quarterly entitled The Loss of a Physician’s Freedom of Consicence will Result in the Breakdown of Patient Autonomy within the Doctor-Patient Relationship.  In this article I wrote:

The doctor-patient relationship is founded upontrust. The patient must trust the doctor to keep confidentiality, to respect his autonomy, and to do the patient good. The doctor must trust that the patient is telling him the complete information and will follow the treatment plan. Without trust, effective health care is not going to occur. How does the conscience fit in with trust? Take, for example, an individual who is a Jehovah’s Witness. The patient is in a situation where the doctor is recommending a blood transfusion, but the doctor also knows that this individual will not take a blood transfusion because it would be a violation of their conscience. The patient must trust the doctor to respect their conscience and thus their autonomy. If the patient does not feel that a doctor would respect their autonomy, then an effective relationship will not be established and the patient will be in fear of what the doctor may do. However, one key way that a patient can know that a doctor will respect their conscience and autonomy is by seeing that the doctor respects and adheres to his own conscience. How could a patient trust a doctor to respect his own wishes if the doctor is willing to violate that very faculty that is supposed to help him recognize truth and act according to it? It would seem that most patients may have a difficult time fully trusting this doctor to act in their best interest. To brush these concerns aside is to ignore a reality of human nature and to put at risk the foundation of the principle of autonomy in medicine.
Continue to pray that the nurses in New Jersey have success in their fight, for it may be the life or death of medicine in the coming years.  If these nurses lose, then soon all, both providers and patients, may begin to see their rights swiftly taken away.

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