Toronto, Ontario, Canada
23 February, 2002
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.