Project Letter to Telegraph Journal

New Brunswick, Canada
24 February, 2002

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

Dr. Monica Brewer’s characterization of physician referral for morally controversial purposes as a “black and white” issue is the result of inadequate reflection.(“MD’s Morals Restricting Birth Control Access,” February 9, 2002) Her suggestion that doctors who object to the morning-after-pill and contraception “should pair with doctors to whom they can refer” is a suitable solution only for those whose objections are simply matters of professional judgement or personal preference.

For example: physicians who know that 94% of the women who are sold the morning-after-pill do not actually require it to prevent pregnancy (the numbers are provided by those who support its widespread use1) may be unwilling to prescribe it for that reason. However, they might well refer a patient who wants the drug to a doctor who will.

Similarly, some physicians believe that women’s health and social interests are better served by learning to recognize their natural fertility cycles, so that they need not be dependent upon physicians or drug companies to plan or avoid pregnancy. These physicians may not prescribe birth control pills for ‘ecological’ reasons, but probably wouldn’t object to referral.

Finally, an obstetrician who thinks that aborting Down syndrome infants is a good idea, but finds performing abortions a traumatic experience, would probably welcome the opportunity to refer a patient to another colleague.

The situation is quite different when physicians are asked to refer a patient for something to which they have grave moral objections. They believe that by referring patients they are themselves morally culpable for facilitating the wrong that is done. Strange? Not at all.

Consider Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter’s suggestion that, since physical torture is “contrary to American values”, the US should turn terrorist suspects who won’t talk over to “less squeamish allies.”2 No one would seriously argue that this would relieve the US of moral complicity in torture.

Of course, moral complicity in abortion, contraception and the morning-after-pill are not issues for people like Dr. Morgantaler and his associate, Judy Burwell, who think these are good things, and that those who think differently are mistaken. But it is surprising that they view freedom of conscience as a problem to be solved by abolishing it, at least for those who don’t agree with them.

After all, Dr. Morgantaler justified his defiance of Canadian abortion law in a 1970 article titled, “A Physician and His Moral Conscience.” 3


Notes (provided for editorial verification)

1. “In 16 months of ECP services, pharmacists provided almost 12,000 ECP prescriptions, which is estimated to have prevented about 700 unintended pregnancies.” Cooper, Janet, Brenda Osmond and Melanie Rantucci, “Emergency Contraceptive Pills- Questions and Answers”. Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal, June 2000, Vol.133, No. 5, at p. 28. See also Valpy, Michael, “The Long Morning After”, Globe and Mail, 15 December, 2001)

2. Alter, Jonathon, “Time to Think About Torture”. Newsweek, 5 November, 2001, p. 45.

3. The article appeared anonymously in The Humanist. Quoted in Pelrine, Eleanor Wright, Morgantaler: The Doctor Who Couldn’t Turn Away.  Canada: Gage Publishing, 1975, P. 79

Project Letter to the National Post

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
23 February, 2002

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

A doctor caring for patients in four Ontario cities may be driven from the profession, or from the country,  because he refuses to practise medicine in accordance with the policies of Planned Parenthood (“MD under fire for denying birth control,” National Post, 22 February, 2002). Welcome to the world of single-issue ethics.

Professor Laura Shanner asserts her personal belief that a physician “absolutely must” help patients obtain drugs or procedures to which the physician objects for reasons of conscience. But there is no self-evident reason why her morality should be imposed upon dissenting physicians under threat of  professional excommunication. Nor do mantras like “standard of care” provide useful guidance when the morality of the ‘care’  itself is in issue. Dr. Morgantaler’s standard of care is, in some  respects, markedly different from that of Physicians for Life. The standard of care in Oregon includes assisted suicide, and in the Netherlands, euthanasia.

On the other hand, John Hof is mistaken in his suggestion that conscientious objectors may refuse to  prescribe contraceptives in order to meet the “spiritual needs” of their patients. People do not go to the doctor to  satisfy their spiritual needs, and physicians should not assume the role of spiritual director.

Conscientious objection arises from concern about one’s own moral culpability, not that of others. It is a matter of personal integrity, not an attempt to control someone else’s behaviour. The unfortunate situation in Barrie may be the result of an infelicitous explanation that failed to make this clear.

Disciplinary Hearing of Doctor Who Won’t Prescribe Pill Open to Public

Dr. Dawson Requests Prayers and Letters of Support

Dr. Stephen Dawson, the family doctor who is in danger of losing his medical licence over his refusal to prescribe the birth control pill to unmarried women clarified his position in an interview with LifeSite last night. Dr. Dawson told LifeSite that the initial coverage in the Barrie Examiner suggested he may compromise on the matter. He clarified: “Under no circumstances will I compromise. I would rather lose my licence.”

He said that he would not apologize for refusing to offer the pill to unmarried women but would apologize for the perhaps “overzealous manner in which I presented my case to these women initially.” [Full text]

 

Project Letter to the Barrie Examiner

Barrie, Ontario, Canada
22 February, 2002

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

Continuing attempts to suppress the freedom of conscience of health care workers like Dr. Stephen Dawson (“Doctor’s Faith Under Scrutiny,” The Barrie Examiner February 21, 2002) give the lie to the claim, oft repeated by Canadian politicians, that protection of conscience legislation is unnecessary. Perhaps their complacent attitude reflects the influence of rigid party discipline that only rarely permits them  the ‘privilege’ of voting according to conscience.

Professor J.R. Brown of the University of Toronto appears to covet the role of party whip, ready to lash or to exile recalcitrant ‘scum’ like Dr. Dawson for daring to let their beliefs affect their public behaviour.

Yet Professor Brown’s private beliefs affected his public behaviour when he asserted that people like Dr. Dawson should “find another job.” Will Professor Brown take his own advice? Or will he continue to speak, act and live in accordance with his own beliefs, even as he denies the same freedom to others who think differently – those whom he characterizes as ‘scum’?

Thoughtful readers will recognize that their relationships and their political and social activities are almost always governed, not by an analysis of empirical evidence, but by deeply held convictions about human dignity and equality, about good and evil, and other equally fundamental concepts. Some of these beliefs may be religious, others not, but all are beliefs. There is no reason, apart from anti-religious bigotry, to allow only atheists and agnostics the freedom to act on their beliefs in public life.

Doctor’s faith under scrutiny

Barrie physician won’t offer the pill, could lose his licence

 Cheryl Canning

Dr. Stephen Dawson faces a discipline committee at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in April because he refused to prescribe birth control pills to unmarried women.

A Barrie doctor could lose his licence to practise medicine because of his religious beliefs.

Dr. Stephen Dawson faces a discipline committee at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in April because he refused to prescribe birth control pills to unmarried women.

“If a Christian physician must forsake his religious beliefs to maintain his medical licence, we cannot delude ourselves to believe we live in a free country,” said Dawson.

Last summer, four female patients made formal complaints to the college, citing Dawson’s refusal to prescribe birth control to the “unmarried” women as the reason, he said.

Dawson believes that when a doctor prescribes birth control pills to an unmarried woman, he unwittingly promotes sex outside of marriage, because he removes the fear of pregnancy. [Full text]

Project Letter to the BC Medical Journal

British Columbia, Canada
16 February, 2002

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

The cover of your  January/February 2002 edition highlighting Dr. Roey M. Malleson’s article on ‘emergency contraception’ was unexpected: a brawny, half-naked, Aryan warrior, eyes glinting murderously from under his horned helmet, wielding a copper IUD, crouched to spring and slaughter.

I would like permission to  post the cover on the Project website, and would appreciate it if you would send me seven copies of the issue. The cover is a splendid  illustration of the usual basis for conscientious objection to  potentially abortifacient devices and drugs, and the article provides  an excellent example of moral obfuscation masquerading as science.

Dr. Malleson clearly  believes, as a matter of faith (for it cannot be science), that it is not immoral to destroy an early human embryo by preventing implantation. However, the article fails to explain why this belief should be forced upon those who do not share it. The Journal of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, cited to support Dr. Malleson’s threatening accusation of negligence, is not widely acknowledged to be an infallible authority on faith and morals, nor is Dr. Malleson.

Finally, astute readers will recognize that the law is more complex than suggested by the article. Freedom of conscience is recognized as a fundamental freedom that must be accommodated. It is imprudent and unhelpful to publicly incite civil actions against colleagues in order to secure their submission to the moral outlook so aptly expressed by your cover.

Letter to the Telegraph Journal

New Brunswick, Canada
14 February, 2002

J. Edward Troy,
Bishop Emeritus of  Saint John Rothesay

[Comments in the December, 2001, Bulletin of the College of Physicians and Surgeons  came to media attention in February, 2002, generating pressure on conscientious objectors in New Brunswick.  Catholic Bishop J.  Edward Troy responded to the news reports in this letter, reproduced with permission of the author.  – Administrator-]

The headline on the front page, “MDs’ morals restricting birth control access” (Telegraph-Journal, Feb. 9) was eye-catching. Upon reading the piece, I learned the reporter was culling from the Bulletin of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick (CPSNB) in which it was recorded that at its meeting of Nov. 23, 2001, its council discussed the implications of the right of physicians not to participate in a treatment or process to which they morally object.

In other words, the Code of Ethics of the College quite properly permits physicians to practice their profession in accordance with their conscience. The discussion, as recorded in the bulletin, is repeated  almost in its entirety in the Telegraph-Journal. It was particularly noted that some patients are not referred for an abortion or do not receive advice on contraception from their doctors. This is followed by  comments (not contained in the bulletin) from one physician in Saint John who doesn’t have the same moral qualms, and by some remarks from  the administrator of the Morgentaler abortion facility in Fredericton.

There is an underlying indignation present in the article more suitable to an opinion piece than to a news report. The writer goes back to Nov. 23 for this information which is given headline treatment on Feb. 9,  breathlessly zeroing in on the roughly eight per cent of the text in the college bulletin that considers the case of patients whose doctors refuse to counsel abortion or contraception because of their moral  principles.

Nothing about the other important matters the council deliberated upon  and which were reported in the pages of the same bulletin. Nothing about  the patient who died from a heart attack after being refused treatment for heart disease. Nothing about the instances where allegations of  malpractice were lodged against doctors for a variety of reasons that  resulted in loss of life or serious illness. Nothing about the extremely difficult choices physicians are faced with every day and the honest  efforts the vast majority of them make to serve their patients with  integrity and skill, but also with fallibility and occasional failure.

No, the focus, in a somewhat negative and disapproving fashion, on the  good news that physicians are acting conscientiously in their professional lives. Indeed I was impressed and heartened by all that I read in the bulletin precisely because it revealed the conscientious  manner in which the council of the CPSNB monitors and guides its members.

I doubt very much the CPSNB would wish to change its code of ethics so as to require physicians to disregard their consciences, especially today when there are factions promoting euthanasia and  physician-assisted suicide. While the code of ethics of the CPSNB does  not allow the doctor to impose his moral views on the patient, it would be equally objectionable to insist that the patient be authorized to  impose his or her moral outlook on the doctor. One hears of patients demanding a prescription for this or that drug; should the physician be  obliged to comply? There is reference in the newspaper piece to the  “morning after pill” that is not really a contraceptive but rather an abortifacient.

Pro-life doctors do not perform or cause abortions nor do they  co-operate with others in procuring an abortion. They rightly consider that abortion is the taking of a human life at an early stage in its  development.

In today’s social and cultural climate, the opposition to contraception is not easily understood, let alone accepted. This is not surprising  since the whole idea of any binding moral principles in the area of  sexuality is widely rejected. According to the lax standards prevalent in our culture, no sexual behaviour is morally wrong – fornication, promiscuity, adultery, masturbation, homosexuality, bestiality, etc.

With the exception of child sexual abuse, the guiding rationale seems to be a light-hearted “different folks, different strokes!”

If a person adheres to this sexual libertinism, he or she is not likely to be persuaded by any amount of argumentation that artificial methods  of contraception are wrong, nor will he or she be able or willing to  grasp the distinction between them and natural family planning. He or she will not see that the warm embrace of contraception has led logically and historically to the widespread acceptance of abortion.

While the views of the administrator of the Morgentaler facility were  completely predictable, she really demonstrates a lot of nerve in lecturing physicians about ethics. “I think it’s very irresponsible of doctors not to be meeting patients’ needs, regardless of their personal opinion or religious beliefs,” she is quoted as saying.  Now this judgment comes from someone who is managing a business devoted  to the destruction of babies in the womb!

Talk about the moral high ground! Also, please observe the mentality  revealed in this declaration. If the abortionists were in charge, they would require people to act against their conscience. These are the same  folks that are always whining about pro-life people who, they say, wish to impose their morality on them. However, it’s apparently all right for  the pro-abortion people to impose their morality on the rest of us.

She is also reported complaining that “many” women who had  been refused birth control pills by doctors were using other methods such as condoms and became pregnant. Was that a slip of the tongue?  Doesn’t she belong to the school that keeps insisting that condoms  should be made available to teens and others so that they won’t become  pregnant or contract AIDS? What about all that propaganda about  “safe sex?” It appears that she knows, as everyone should,  that condoms do fail with the result that the woman becomes pregnant or  the unaffected partner gets AIDS.

I salute physicians – no doubt the vast majority of practitioners – who refuse to ignore conscience and moral principle in the exercise of their  calling. I honour physicians who do not derive their notions of what is  right and wrong from popular magazines or from the superficial opinions of “celebrities” or from Hollywood script writers or from harangues by those who operate abortuaries.

Doctors have access to a long and solid tradition of medical ethics.  It’s encouraging to see that so many continue to draw on that wisdom in the practice of their profession and aren’t easily swayed by the fog of  moral indifference which covers so much of the world today.

No equal opportunities for nurse With pro-life views

Oregon, USA

 John W. Whitehead

According to a federal lawsuit filed by Janice, when the new supervisor-one intolerant of pro-life viewpoints-was assigned to the Women’s Clinic, Janice’s treatment on the job began to change. Indeed, not only were Janice’s religious views no longer accommodated, she was also harassed.  Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute reached a mutually agreeable resolution in Feb. 2003 with the Marion County Health Department on behalf of Janice Turner. As part of the settlement agreement, a new policy was enacted preventing discrimination of employees based upon religious or moral beliefs regarding abortion or contraception and requiring the health department to accommodate those beliefs. [Full text]