Hospital Restricts Nurses' Freedom of Conscience
Markham-Stoufville, Ontario, Canada (1993-1998)
Reproduced with permission
If the province can spend millions of dollars
setting up abortion clinics, Stephens said, it can well afford to hire
nurses prepared to take part in abortions, rather than forcing others to go
against their consciences. . . . And if hospitals pride themselves on being
responsive to the community, this one should make plain how the recent
decision was made and why the nurses are under such compulsion.
In a column in the May issue of Thornhill Month, John Stephens
asked, "Must it be a matter of either job or conscience?" Until now, he
wrote, the Birthplace Unit at the Markham-Stoufville Hospital has been used
as the name implies. Now, nurses in the unit who abhor abortions are being
told either to assist at these procedures or accept transfer to another
department. "For nurses who have developed great skill at the birthing
process," Stephens pointed out, "this means giving up the job they love, and
losing the opportunity to practise their expertise. In other circles, this
would be called wrongful dismissal."
What is worse, Stephens added, the hospital is being deceptive. It is
asking nurses whether they will consent to look after patients using a new
definition of obstetrics it has prepared. At first sight, the document seems
inoffensive: who could object to looking after a woman who will deliver a
healthy child, or who has gone through a spontaneous abortion, or whose
child is stillborn? "What the hospital won't tell you," says Stephens, "is
that the spontaneous abortion wasn't, perhaps, so spontaneous, and that if
the fetus should be born alive, the doctors will allow it to die. Likewise,
the diagnosis of stillbirth hides the fact that a doctor may have caused the
death of the fetus. This is abortion."
A person cannot be fired for refusing to work on Sunday if his or her
religion prohibits it, but a nurse can apparently be fired or transferred
because she will not assist at what her religion tells her is the murder of
a child. If the province can spend millions of dollars setting up abortion
clinics, Stephens said, it can well afford to hire nurses prepared to take
part in abortions, rather than forcing others to go against their
consciences. It does not have to force abortions on birthing units either.
And if hospitals pride themselves on being responsive to the community, this
one should make plain how the recent decision was made and why the nurses
are under such compulsion.
Some of the comments included in the Badgley Report (1977) brought or a
number of reasons, apart from religion, why nurses do not want to
participate in abortions. Some of these comments were fairly brief:
"Personally I dislike assisting in abortions because it is uncomfortable for
me to remove parts of a so-called 'torn up foetus'"
"I have been involved in operations where a foetus has moved. I find this
distressful and feel no government has a right to inflict this treatment or
moral responsibility on an individual."
One longer submission made the very telling point that, when a doctor has
given a pregnant woman a saline injection, it is usually or at least very
often the nurse who has to take care of the extremely unpleasant
"I feel as if my rights were transgressed - a doctor can refuse to abort
any patient he wishes - I'm forced to nurse- and deliver - the patients
having abortion. Recently one of the doctors was present and helped deliver
a foetus following a saline induced abortion - he now says he'll not do any
more saline injections - I'm not permitted to make this choice - The death
on our unit following a therapeutic abortion was very stressful to the staff
(patient 18 years) and even now, four years later, that patient is still
. . . Does her freedom of conscience not matter at all? For years Nurses
for Life, led by Peggy Madill and Helen McGee, has tried to secure the
passage of a conscience clause - such as exists in New Zealand, Great
Britain, and many states of the U.S.A. - which would enable health
professionals to refuse to participate in abortions and not be penalized for
doing so. The Liberal government argued in 1969 that it was self-evident
that no one would be forced to participate in abortions and therefore a
conscience clause was unnecessary. As Father Alphonse de Valk pointed out in
his Morality and Law in Canadian Politics, since 1969 there has been
a serious decline of tolerance concerning the freedom not to perform
abortions. Most nurses find the destruction of life the very opposite of
what they believe. But the pro-abortionists count on them gradually becoming
"enlightened" and conditioned. So a conscience clause is becoming ever more
necessary. Such callous treatment of nurses as is going on at the
Markham-Stoufville Hospital is completely wrong.
"I firmly hope these nurses will appeal to the Ontario Human Rights
Commission," wrote John Stephens, "because the hospital has blatantly
discriminated against them." Whether they will feel satisfied to trust their
case to the tender mercies of the Commission is open to question. At any
rate, they have been forced to become involved in a most disagreeable
conflict with the hospital authorities and to go to the expense of employing
legal counsel. Largely because of pressure from two pro-abortion doctors,
they feel that their own respect for human life is being dismissed as
unimportant, and that there is a steady downward descent in working
conditions at the hospital. No doubt this is a situation which the
provincial government is glad to encourage.
So much for "pro-choice".
"Must it be a matter of either job or conscience?" Stephens asks. Why
should it be. Is there no sense of justice left in Canada?