The right of conscience is enshrined in our human rights codes. Recently a push by medical associations has brought a conundrum to the forefront.
The bylaws of various associations are trying to find a balance. Unfortunately they seem to be tipping more than balancing.
A doctor is to give access to all types of patients. The are to give strong medical care to the best of their abilities. The patient has individual voice in the care provided. Which outweighs which?
Until now we generally accepted the expertise of a doctor as most valuable. When they could show that a treatment was not for the welfare of the patient, their decision was strongly considered – in many cases expected to be followed.
Patient advocacy has done a great service in highlighting the needs of the patient. Patients are more aware and aggressive in their treatments.
So now, the question is, “when does a patient’s rights trump the conscience of a doctor?”
Up until now, the doctor could withdraw from treating a patient and in case of objections from a conscience strongly held and practiced, could leave it at that.
Now the medical community is considering requiring that doctor to provide referrals and even to seek out those who could provide treatment that they are not willing to perform.
Can you, as a doctor, refer a patient, in good conscience, to seek a procedure that you consider to be wrong? Can you work in concert with, by knowing and associating in implicit practice with, those who are acting completely opposite and contrary to your view?
The question of conscience for a doctor who is dealing with abortions or doctor assisted suicide/death comes to mind immediately. I’m sure other options will arise.
Can this be the tolerant society we envision?