Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude

Conscientious Objection on the Socio-Political Background of Ethical Relativism

THE FUTURE OF OBSTETRICS AND GYNAECOLOGY: The Fundamental Right To Practice and be Trained According to Conscience: An International Meeting of Catholic Obstetricians and Gynaecologist

Organised by the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC) and by MaterCare International (MCI)
Sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Health Pastoral Care ROME, June 17th-20th, 2001

Reproduced with permission

Nikolaus Zwicky-Aeberhard *

As we all know very well it becomes increasingly difficult for a junior doctor to get an appropriate postgraduate training in obstetrics and gynaecology if he refuses to assist to or perform abortions and almost impossible if he refuses to participate in contraceptive measures, in vitro fertilisation IVF ( and similar reproductive procedures) and sterilisation. Even in Poland where the conscience clause is generally accepted for abortion the situation becomes very difficult when participation in contraception is refused.

Apart from strictly moral aspects which forbid per se the use of contraceptives and of IVF etc. we have to consider the fact, that both contraception and IVF are accompanied by very early abortions and so-called embryo-loss respectively. Therefore it is absolutely essential that the conscience clause is also respected here. And we have to fight for it. Our claim therefore is not less than this: Regarding abortion, contraception, IVF etc. and sterilisation operations we demand the right of conscientious objection without undergoing handicaps or even impossibility of postgraduate studies or professional work. The stipulation must not only cover the right of free decision but include also the prevention of possibly resulting disadvantages.

Taking into account the UNO-Human-Rights-Declaration and considering the granted rights and freedoms in the constitutions of most countries, how may it be possible, that the training of gynaecologists becomes a problem, if they refuse to terminate pregnancies etc.? According to the Human-Rights-Declaration of dec. 10th 1948 "every human being has the granted right to freedom of thinking, conscience and religion and the right for work, free choice of profession and suitable working conditions."

The Swiss Constitution declares among others:

- Art.7 The dignity of man is to be respected and protected.
- Art.8.2 No human person must be discriminated - especially not for his religion, his world view or political opinion.
- Art.10. Every human being has the right to live.
- Art 15.1 Religious freedom and freedom of conscience are granted.
Similar formulations are found in the constitutions of most countries. Considering the quoted statements it should be possilbe to accomplish our message especially:
- If every human being has the right to live (Swiss constitution Art. 10.1) it has this right even if not yet born, that means from conception.
- If every human being has the claim to free thinking and freedom of conscience (UNO-Human-Rights-Declaration Art. 18 and Swiss constitution Art. 15.1), he has also the right of conscientious objection.
- If every human being has the right to work, free choice of profession and satisfying working condition(Human-Rights-Decl.) and because of his world view (Swiss Const. 8.2) may not be discriminated.

It is difficult to understand, why someone cannot complete his training or practice his profession in a normal way, if he exerts his right of conscientious objection. In fact the doctor not willing to terminate pregnancies deliberately protects exactly the human life to which the government commits itself in its constitution. So how can a government by an order of service force a hospital to do abortions or refuse to employ doctors unwillingly to terminate pregnancies?

Here it is worthwhile to remember Cicero (106 - 43 B.C) and his controversial opinions against ethical relativism in his book De Legibus.

"Nature brought forth general understandings for us and planted them in our souls in such a way that we can distinguish good from evil. To conclude that this is based on a mere opinion and not regards the natural circumstances is entirely absurd" (free translation of the latin text: Nam ita communis intellegentias nobis natura efficit easque in animis nostris inchoavit, ut honestia in virtute ponantur, in vitiis turpia. Ea autem in opinione existimare, non in natura posita dementis est.).

With this last statement Cicero clearly rejects the nowadays much praised Consent-Ethics. Less abstract is the comment of the Holy Father John Paul II in his Encyclical Evangelium Vitae:

" Ethical relativism must be considered as a great danger to the peaceful co-existance and cannot be justified with the institution of democracy depends on the values which it is representing and promoting. The basis of these values are no temporary or changing majorities of opinions, but the recognition of an objective law of ethics (EV 70)".

Regarding our objective the Pope continues: "Whoever becomes conscientious objector must not only be protected from punishments but also from any legal, disciplinary, economic and professional harm (EV 74)." Our claim that Evangelium Vitae compatible gynaecologists must not be impeded in their studies and professional work is therefore legitimate and justified in details in the mentioned documents. I refer to a question of an Italian lawyer: " Come si potrebbe perdere il posto esercitando un proprio diritto?" The disadvantages against doctors who work in conformity with the Magisterium would also be an injustice towards women and families who prefer to be treated by such doctors. Such women and families are numerous.

The respect of human life from the moment of fertilisation and the increasing threat to unborn human life which can be eliminated be order of service is the basis of my communication. Because of the increasing institutionalisation of abortions politicians and government officials try in many countries, especially in West, Central and Eastern Europe (except Poland) to keep inconvenient gynaecologists away from postgraduate studies and professional work. If this development continues and if the intolerance against Magisterium-minded gynaecologists extends to other countries the disappearance of such professionals can be foretold. However I think that this trend will be slowed down not only because of the dangerous population-implosion throughout Europe but also because of a slowly emerging change of opinions. It seems that in England and France an increasing number of young gynaecologists is refusing abortion --- not necessarily for ethical reasons but just because they are upset.

What to do? It is exceedingly important that the claim of conscientious objection including the prevention of disadvantages is recognised and propagated. Catholic Medical Associations have to intensify contacts to lawyers and politicians on a national and international level regarding this topic. We have to remain vigilant regarding the activities of organisations as IPPF and others of that kind and we have to inform politicians and warn them.

Finishing this communication I recommend our thinking and our work to the intercession of the Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla.