Are Pro-Life Healthcare Providers Becoming an Endangered Species?
Voices On-Line Edition, Vol. XVIII: No. 2 - Pentecost 2003
Reproduced with permission from
Women for Faith and Family
Slowly but surely, more and more pro-life doctors,
nurses and other healthcare professionals are getting the message that they
and their views are unwelcome in today's health care system. But these
public items tell only a small part of the story. Intimidation, harassment
and coercion are becoming increasingly common as pro-life health care
providers try to advocate for both their patients and their professional
At the urging of Planned Parenthood, the Nevada state Assembly approved
an amendment in April to stop pharmacists with religious objections from
refusing to fill prescriptions for any drug, including abortifacient
contraceptives and the so-called "morning after" pill.1
New York City hospitals now require abortion training for all their OB/GYN
resident doctors unless they invoke a narrowly written conscience
Oregon Nursing Association has issued guidelines for assisted suicide that
prohibit nurses from making "unwarranted, judgmental comments or actions" to
patients, families or other colleagues when patients decide to kill
themselves with doctor-prescribed lethal overdoses.4
Slowly but surely, more and more pro-life doctors, nurses and other
healthcare professionals are getting the message that they and their views
are unwelcome in today's health care system. But these public items tell
only a small part of the story. Intimidation, harassment and coercion are
becoming increasingly common as pro-life health care providers try to
advocate for both their patients and their professional ethics.
For example, a nurse was threatened with firing after she refused to
follow a doctor's verbal order to increase an intravenous morphine drip
"until he stops breathing" on a patient who continued to survive despite
having a ventilator removed. An OB/GYN physician was told by other doctors
that they would no longer refer patients to him if he continued to sign an
annual pro-life ad. Three California nurses were suspended after they
reported a doctor who later admitted giving a lethal injection to a child.
An insurance company executive speaking on ethics committees at a conference
recommended that such committees avoid appointing "family values" members.
Unfortunately, these reprehensible acts are not confined to just secular
health care institutions.
A dedicated nurse who cared for elderly nuns in a Catholic facility for
over a decade was told she could resign when she objected to the slow
starvation and dehydration deaths of two of her beloved nuns. Several
doctors and nurses working at Catholic hospitals have personally told me
about similar incidents, including other supposedly prohibited actions such
as sterilizations, referrals to Planned Parenthood and even some abortions.
Amazingly, hospital administrators often told them that these procedures
were ethically allowed according to some prominent Catholic ethicists.
Years ago when I was the co-chair of the St. Louis Archdiocesan Pro-Life
Committee, I was asked by the late Archbishop May why I didn't work as a
nurse at a Catholic institution. He was shocked when I told him that I felt
safer at a secular institution that at least understood the implications of
conscience rights rather than at a Catholic institution, which could try to
talk me out of them.
I wasn't kidding.
The Slippery Slope
Before the invention of the Pill and the legalization of abortion,
medical ethics principles were relatively simple, unambiguous and, with few
exceptions, followed by doctors and nurses. The Hippocratic oath prohibiting
abortion and euthanasia was a mainstay of medical education.
However, the beginnings of a drastic change started with the furor over
the invention of the Pill and accelerated when the American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) allowed the redefinition of
conception from fertilization to the later implantation of the embryo into a
woman's uterus, thus blurring the distinction between contraception and
abortion by ignoring scientific fact.5
The American Medical Association (AMA) softened its long-standing
opposition to abortion as state laws on abortion were being relaxed in the
1960s and 1970s. After the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the AMA declared
abortion to be an ethical healthcare procedure and now opposes almost any
restrictions on abortion practice.
With legality rather than principle becoming a deciding factor in medical
ethics, the standard of the Hippocratic oath had to be revised and now it is
rarely used at all. Both the prohibition of abortion and euthanasia in the
oath as well as the sacred commitment of the doctor to the individual
patient were seen as obstacles to a more "enlightened" and modern healthcare
system. Healthcare is now seen by many as an important part of societal
reform to a more "inclusive" and less "judgmental" culture.
Thus, it is not surprising that pro-life health care providers are now
portrayed as divisive to their professions and even a threat to patients'
rights when they refuse to conform to the Culture of Death.
When the infamous Roe v. Wade decision on abortion was handed down, it
was assumed that healthcare providers would not be forced to participate in
abortion. However, the reality of legalizing abortion soon led many states
to pass conscience rights legislation on abortion to protect doctors and
nurses who object. Unfortunately, this still has not adequately protected
doctors and nurses from intimidation, harassment or from obstacles to career
advancement because they do not provide what is now called "full service" on
Many pro-life healthcare providers thought they would be safe if they
chose a specialty other than OB/GYN or labor and delivery. But with the
court decisions and laws legalizing the withdrawal of basic medical
treatment, the acceptance of terminal sedation as comfort care, the
legalization of assisted suicide in Oregon and the push for such laws in
other states, etc., there is now almost no area of medicine where a pro-life
healthcare provider can avoid ethical dilemmas.
And instead of unity, the medical professions have now become virtual war
zones with many ethical doctors and nurses reluctant to even express their
views or reveal that they are pro-life. Unfortunately, the healthcare
professions, which rely on universal standards to protect both their members
and the public, cannot long be trusted when their members can have
diametrically opposed views on life and death. Coexistence of such disparate
views ultimately becomes impossible because, as the Bible says, a man cannot
serve two masters and must eventually choose one over the other. Thus,
conscience rights help but they are not enough.
Pro-life healthcare providers are becoming a thin, white-coat line trying
to protect both their patients and the public from an ever-expanding Culture
of Death. And without such people of principle, there is no possibility of
maintaining a pro-life movement.
With the current "politically correct" view that people should not judge
the actions of others and the rise of moral relativism in all areas of
personal ethics, far too many people are being intimidated into silence or
despair. But we must remember that we are called to be persistent and that
the ultimate success is God's.
And there are already glimmers of hope. For example, the efforts of
disability, pro-life and other organizations have so far helped to defeat
efforts to legalize Oregon-style assisted suicide in other states. The
courage of Jill Stanek, the nurse who exposed the scandal of neglecting
newborn abortion survivors to death in her hospital and was finally fired,
has led to President Bush signing the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act this
year. The incident of the nurse who refused to increase a morphine drip to
euthanize a patient opened many eyes among her colleagues and recently an
entire division of nurses refused to follow a doctor's order to use morphine
to terminally sedate a patient-and the doctor backed down.
The reform of medical ethics has to come from both inside the medical
profession and from the public. It is only when the highest standards are
insisted upon that the ongoing corruption of the healthcare professions can
be stopped and trust restored.
But first we must all accept the fact that evil never limits itself and
always seeks to expand. Now is the time to make truly ethical healthcare the
norm and stop the Culture of Death. Otherwise, we all can become an
1 Ed Vogel,
"Assembly Voice Vote: Pharmacists told to heed doctors' Rx". Las
Vegas Review-Journal, April 4, 2003.
"New York City Begins Abortion Training for All OB/GYN Residents Starting
Next Month; Supporters Want Program Duplicated Nationwide", Kaiser
Daily Reproductive Report. June 11, 2002.
3 Michelle Malkin,
"Forcing doctors to kill". Townhall.Com, June 7, 2002.
Guidance on Nurses' Dilemma". The Oregon Nurses Association Position
Paper on the Death with Dignity Act.
5 Eugene F. Diamond, M.D.,
(a Focus on the Family publication), November/December 1992.
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