Declaration in Support of Conscientious Objection in Health Care

Introduction

The Declaration and associated texts you find here are my attempt, as a concerned academic, to provide a platform for the public support of freedom of conscience in health care.

Please read all of the material here. If you agree with the Declaration overall – even if you disagree with or are neutral on various details – I encourage you to add your electronic signature as a demonstration of support.

Signatures from health care professionals and academics in related fields are especially welcome, but you are encouraged to sign simply if you share my concerns and agree with the general way I have expressed them. You do not need an institutional affiliation, professional title, or any particular background. The more signatures this Declaration obtains, the more likely it is to come to the attention of policy makers and people who can amplify the message.

The texts ancillary to the Declaration are not part of its contents; they simply explain how I see and interpret the issues raised in the Declaration, and how I would like to see policy develop. By signing the Declaration, you do not indicate support for anything I say in the ancillary texts.

You will be asked only for your name, professional title (if you have one), institutional affiliation (if you have one), email address, and the country in which you reside. I may use your email occasionally to send you information about the Declaration, such as media coverage, but I will not use your email address for any other purpose. You will not be asked be involved in any other activity. The information you provide will be used solely to represent support for freedom of conscience in health care to professionals in the field (both clinical and academic), policy makers, and other interested parties who might be able to help with the promotion of this issue.

Acknowledgement and Disclaimer
I am grateful to the University of Reading for its support in hosting this material. The views and proposals presented here, however, represent my opinions alone. They do not, in any way, necessarily represent the views of the University of Reading or any of its officers, employees, or students.
David S. Oderberg

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You’re a surgeon. A patient wants to look like a lizard. What do you do?

As medical treatments advance, the need to accommodate conscientious objection in healthcare is more pressing

The Guardian
Reproduced with permission

David S. Oderberg*

Imagine that you are a cosmetic surgeon and a patient asks you to make them look like a lizard. Would you have ethical qualms? Or perhaps you are a neurosurgeon approached by someone wanting a brain implant – not to cure a disability but to make them smarter via cognitive enhancement. Would this go against your code of professional ethics? With the rapid advance of medical technology, problems of conscience threaten to become commonplace. Perhaps explicit legal protection for conscientious objection in healthcare is the solution.

There is limited statutory protection for those performing abortion, and there is some shelter for IVF practitioners. Passive euthanasia (withdrawal of life support with intent to hasten death) is also part of the debate over doctors’ conscience rights. That’s about it as far as UK law is concerned – though freedom of conscience is enshrined in numerous conventions and treaties to which we are party. Abortion, artificial reproductive technologies (involving embryo research and storage) and passive euthanasia are the flashpoints of current and historic controversy in medical ethics. The debate over freedom of conscience in healthcare goes to the heart of what it means to be a medical practitioner.

Curing, healing, not harming: these are the guiding principles of the medical and nursing professions. But what if there is reasonable and persistent disagreement over whether a treatment is in the patient’s best interests? What if a practitioner believes that treating their patient in a particular way is not good for them? What if carrying out the treatment would be a violation of the healthcare worker’s ethical and/or religious beliefs? Should they be coerced into acting contrary to their conscience?

Such coercion, whether it involve threats of dismissal, denial of job opportunities or of promotion, or shaming for not being a team player, is a real issue. Yet in what is supposed to be a liberal, pluralistic and tolerant society, compelling people to violate their deeply held ethical beliefs – making them do what they think is wrong – should strike one as objectionable.

Freedom of conscience is not only about performing an act but about assisting with it. There are some people who ask doctors to amputate healthy limbs. If you were a surgeon, my guess is that you would refuse. But what about being asked to help out? Would you hand over the instruments to a willing surgeon? Or supervise a trainee surgeon to make sure they did the amputation correctly? If conscientious objection is to have any substance in law, it must also cover these acts of assistance.

This country has a long and honourable tradition of accommodating conscientious objectors in wartime – those who decline to fight or to assist or facilitate the fighting by, say, making munitions. They can be assigned to other duties that may support the war effort yet are so remote a form of cooperation as not to trouble their consciences. In any war, the objectors are a tiny fraction of the combat-eligible population. Yet when it comes to one’s rights, do numbers matter? Has their existence ever prevented a war from being carried out to the utmost? I fail to see, then, why we are tolerant enough to make adjustments for conscientious objectors in the midst of a national emergency, yet in peacetime would be reluctant to afford similar adjustments to members of one of the most esteemed professions.

Do we think medical practitioners should be no more than state functionaries, dispensing whatever is legal no matter how much it is in conflict with personal conscience and professional integrity – lest they be hounded out of the profession? Some academics think expulsion is not good enough. Or should healthcare workers be valets, providing whatever service their patients demand? Perhaps when practitioners find themselves faced with demands for the sorts of treatment I’ve mentioned – or perhaps gene editing treatments or compulsory sterilisation, society will act. Or maybe by then it will be too little, too late.

David S Oderberg is professor of philosophy at the University of Reading, and author of Declaration in support of conscientious protection in medicine

 

 

‘Medical Conscience’ Is Becoming a Partisan Controversy

National Review
Reproduced with permission

Wesley J. Smith

Should doctors and nurses be forced to participate in interventions they find morally abhorrent or unwarranted? As one example, should ethical rules require pediatricians to medically inhibit normal puberty as demanded by parents to “treat” their child’s gender dysphoria — even if they are morally opposed to the concept and/or the supposed treatment?

Some say yes. Thus, influential bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel argues that medical professionals are obligated to accede to the patient’s right to receive legal interventions if they are generally accepted within the medical community — specifically including abortion. Emanuel stated doctors who are morally or religiously opposed, should do the procedure anyway or procure a doctor they know will accede to the patient’s demands. Either that, or get out of medicine.

Supporters of “medical conscience” argue that forcing doctors to participate in interventions they find morally abhorrent would be involuntary medical servitude. They want to strengthen existing laws that protect doctors, nurses, and pharmacists’ who refuse participation in legal interventions to which they are morally or religiously opposed.

Now, medical conscience looks to become another battlefront in our bitter partisan divide. After the Trump administration announced rules that will place greater emphasis on enforcing federal laws protecting medical conscience, Democratic state attorneys general promised to seek a court order invalidating the new rule. From the New York Law Journal story:

But 19 state attorneys general, led by New York’s Eric Schneiderman, argue that it is the patients who will be discriminated against under the proposed rule. This is particularly true, they argue, in the cases of marginalized patients who already face discrimination in trying to obtain health care, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patients and male patients seeking HIV/AIDS preventative medications, according to the comments filed in opposition to the rule.

“If adopted, the proposed rule … will needlessly and carelessly upset the balance that has long been struck in federal and state law to protect the religious freedom of providers, the business needs of employers, and the health care needs of patients,” they state.

The stakes can only increase as moral controversies in health care intensify in coming years. As just two examples, some bioethicists are lobbying to enact laws that would give dementia patients the right to sign an advance directive requiring nursing homes to starve them to death once they reach a specified level of cognitive decline. There are also increasing calls to do away with the dead-donor rule in transplant medicine so that PVS patients can be organ-harvested while still alive

If these acts become legal, should doctor and nurses who practice in these fields be forced to participate? If Emanuel’s opinion prevails, the answer could be yes. If medical professionals are protected by medical conscience legal protections, the answer would be no.

Medical conscience is not just important to personally affected professionals. All of us have a stake. Think about the potential talent drain we could face if we force health-care professionals to violate their moral beliefs. Experienced doctors and nurses might well take Emanuel’s advice and get out of medicine — while talented young people who could add so much to the field may avoid entering health-care professions altogether.

Comity is essential to societal cohesion in our moral polyglot age. Medical conscience allows patients to obtain morally contentious procedures, while permitting dissenting medical professionals to stay true to their own moral and religious beliefs. I hope the Democrats’ lawsuits are thrown out of court.

The “Medical Conscience” Civil Rights Movement

First Things

Wesley J. Smith*

Until recently, healthcare was not culturally controversial. Medicine was seen as primarily concerned with extending lives, curing diseases, healing injuries, palliating symptoms, birthing babies, and promoting wellness – and hence, as a sphere in which people of all political and social beliefs were generally able to get along.

That consensus has been shattered. Doctors today may be asked to provide legal but morally contentious medical interventions such as sex selection abortion, assisted suicide, preimplantation genetic diagnosis of IVF embryos, even medications that inhibit the onset of puberty for minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria. As a consequence, medical practice has become embroiled in political and cultural conflict. . .
Full Text

How to be an Odd Doc Without Getting Your Goose Cooked

Dan Reilly

A presentation at a medical students’ forum hosted by Canadian Physicians for Life.

2:38 – 4:12  Ethical disputes: disagreeing about an “ought”

4:12 –  11:22  World views: dominant culture, ethics, law, decision making processes, religion, society, culture, experience, philosophy

11:22 – 13:58  The patient wants what you will not provide: ct scan, antibiotics, opioids, abortion, life support, contraception, pre-natal genetic tests, CPR, plastic surgery, elective C-sections, elective induction of labour

13:58 – 1834  fiduciary duty, patient access, moral distress

18:34 – 19:43  When patient asks for what you would like to provide, but can’t

19:43 –  21:44  When professional consensus is that you should say no

21:44 – 25:22  When physicians differ on what fiduciary duty dictates: full information, no abandonment

25:22 – 27:18  In some jursidictions, when refusing on moral grounds, in emergencies – provide service; otherwise- effective referral

27:18 –  32:55 Odd Docs and patients: why disputes arise, best practices: communication, compassion, care, honesty

32:55 – 36:24  Odd Docs and administrators: communication, compassion, do other work

Should lesbian couples have access to mitochondrial replacement therapy?

BioEdge

Michael Cook

“Three parent babies!!!!” was a shock-horror headline across the world when the UK was debating mitochondrial replacement therapy a couple of years ago. This is a technique to avoid passing on mitochondrial diseases from mother to child. There are different methods, but they involve combining the nuclear DNA of the mother’s egg with healthy mitochondrial DNA from another woman and fertilisation with sperm.

The government’s fertility regulator, the HFEA, explained that this was meant to “to avoid passing on serious genetic diseases to future generations”. Under existing legislation, MRT can only be used for this purpose.

Much of the opposition to the technique in a very heated debate was the unconventional matter of a child sharing two mothers, or at least, sharing the genes of two women. Many found this profoundly unnatural.

However, there is a group of women who might welcome this – lesbian couples. For them, it could be a way of creating a child with a shared genetic heritage.

Or so argue Giulia Cavaliere and César Palacios-González, of , King’s College London, in the Journal of Medical Ethics. Their reasoning is quite interesting. (It is spelled out a bit more simply in a blog post.)

First of all, against the headlines about “cures” for desperately ill children, they insist (as did many opponents of MTR) that no MRTs can be considered therapeutic as they do not cure children/embryos affected by mtDNA diseases, but they are rather a means to create children that are not affected by mtDNA diseases.

Second, they ask, if “cures” are not the reason for the existing legislation, what is? Their answer might have escaped the MPs who votes for it, but it fits:

the rationale to offer MRTs is to allow women at risk of transmitting mtDNA disease to have healthy children that are genetically related to them. The rationale, in other words, is to expand these women’s reproductive freedom …

Third, if reproductive freedom (and not the health of a child) is the most fundamental reason, then all women deserve to take advantage of MTR, not just the mothers of sick children. Lesbian couples are equally needy and deserving.

Providing access to MRTs to women at risk of transmitting a mtDNA disease and not to lesbian couples is in our view contrary to one of the tenets of morality, which demands to treat like cases alike. Denying access to MRTs to lesbian couples is morally unjustifiable in as much as it curtails the enjoyment of certain freedoms to a certain group without good reason, whilst allowing others to enjoy the very same freedoms.

Some bioethicists would call this the slippery slope in action. Others would respond that it is merely extending the inherent logic of the legislation. In any case, it certainly is an unexpected interpretation of the legislation.

This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact BioEdge for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

Accessed 2018-03-28

 

Tiny human brain organoids implanted into rodents, triggering ethical concerns

Stat

Sharon Begley

Minuscule blobs of human brain tissue have come a long way in the four years since scientists in Vienna discovered1how to create them from stem cells.

The most advanced of these human brain organoids — no bigger than a lentil and, until now, existing only in test tubes — pulse with the kind of electrical activity that animates actual brains. They give birth to new neurons2, much like full-blown brains. And they develop the six layers3 of the human cortex, the region responsible for thought, speech, judgment, and other advanced cognitive functions.

These micro quasi-brains are revolutionizing research on human brain development and diseases from Alzheimer’s to Zika4, but the headlong rush to grow the most realistic, most highly developed brain organoids has thrown researchers into uncharted ethical waters. Like virtually all experts in the field, neuroscientist Hongjun Song of the University of Pennsylvania doesn’t “believe an organoid in a dish can think,” he said, “but it’s an issue we need to discuss.” . . [Full text]

 

Is there any difference between euthanasia and palliated starvation?

BioEdge

Xavier Symons

While euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently illegal in most countries, the practice of voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED) is seen by some as an ethically and legally permissible alternative. VSED refers to seriously-ill patients refusing to eat and drink for a sustained period of time with the intention of bringing about their own death.

Yet a new paper published in BMC Medicine argues that VSED is ethically indistinguishable from assisted suicide, and should be subject to the same legal regulations as more salient cases of assistance in dying.

The paper, lead-authored by Ralf J. Jox of the Institute for Ethics, History and Theory of Medicine at the University of Munich, argues that “supporting patients who embark on VSED amounts to assistance in suicide, at least in some instances, depending on the kind of support and its relation to the patient’s intention”.

While VSED does not involve an invasive or aggressive act like many other means of suicide, the authors write that “VSED should [nevertheless] be considered as a form of suicide, as there is both an intention to bring about death and an omission that directly causes this effect”. Doctors who assist patients in VSED — by encouraging them, or promising pain-relief if VSED is undertaken — are potentially instrumental in the deaths of the patients, as the suicide would not occur without them, and they share the patient’s intention of inducing death.

The authors of the paper conclude that the same legal prescriptions or regulations that apply to physician assisted suicide should also apply to VSED.

“[We] maintain… that future ethical discussions on assisted suicide require consideration of medically supported VSED, and vice versa…Thus, the widely held position by palliative care societies, professional bodies of physicians, legal scholars, and ethicists to disapprove of assisted suicide but approve of and even promote medically supported VSED appears inconsistent”.


This article is published by Xavier Symons and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation to BioEdge. Commercial media must contact BioEdge for permission and fees.

 

Accessed 2017-08-11

 

Proposed legislation to protect health professionals who object to assisted dying called ‘one-sided’

Dying with Dignity Canada says Bill 34 doesn’t protect patients’ rights to access assisted dying

CBC news

Holly Caruk

A bill that would protect Manitoba health professionals’ rights to refuse assisted dying services and protect them from reprisals is being called redundant and one-sided.

Bill 34, which was introduced in May and hasn’t yet reached a second reading in the House, would ensure health professionals cannot be compelled to go against their own religious or ethical beliefs when it comes to providing medical assistance in dying (MAID) services.

It would also ban any professional regulatory body from requiring members to participate in medically assisted deaths, which were made legal by the Supreme Court in 2015. . . [Full text]

 

What could help me to die? Doctors clash over euthanasia

Associated Press

Maria Cheng

GHENT, Belgium (AP) — After struggling with mental illness for years, Cornelia Geerts was so desperate to die that she asked her psychiatrist to kill her.

Her sister worried that her judgment was compromised. The 59-year-old was taking more than 20 pills every day, including antidepressants, an opioid, a tranquilizer, and two medicines often used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

About a year later, on October 7, 2014, her doctor administered a lethal dose of drugs. It was all legal procedure in Belgium, which has among the world’s most permissive euthanasia laws.

“I know it was Cornelia’s wish, but I said to the psychiatrist that it was a shame that someone in treatment for years could just be brought to the other side with a simple injection,” said her sister, Adriana Geerts. . . .[Full text]