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Protection of Conscience Project

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California Nurses for Ethical Standards

Conscience Rights Under Attack

California Nurses for Ethical Standards
Reproduced with permission

The civil rights of people working in health care are under attack at all levels. Individual employers discipline and even fire those who insist on honoring their own consciences. Nurses, doctors, pharmacists are among those who have faced unemployment because they refused to participate in unethical "medical" interventions.

The most recent attack on health care conscience rights targets pharmacists. A new trend across the nation seeks to destroy pharmacists' ability to decline to provide drugs that destroy human life. Thinking that this doesn't affect nurses and others in health care is a serious mistake.

The legalization of physician assisted suicide and eventually of euthanasia, coupled with the loss of conscience rights, could mean that nurses would be required to administer lethal drugs that doctors would be required to prescribe to a patient who may or may not consent to being killed.

A few states have enacted laws protecting pharmacists but many other states, including California, are currently entertaining legislation that could deny pharmacists' conscience rights.

California along with most of the United States of America suffers from a nursing shortage. Yet many of our legislators have expressed opinions that people in the health professions should not be permitted to exercise conscience. In 2006 the Chair of the California Assembly Judiciary Committee, for example, stated that people who object to providing any legalized services such as abortion and physician assisted suicide if eventually legalized should not enter the health care professions. He expressed an opinion that any patient should be able to demand any legal service from any healthcare professional even in violation of the provider's conscience and even though a patient can get the services from someone else. He said that conscientious objectors should seek careers elsewhere. This philosophy, put into practice, would be very damaging to our society. It would lead to even greater nursing shortages as droves of nurses would have to withdraw from the profession. Other categories of health professionals would be similarly affected.

It makes absolutely no sense to compel individuals to act against their consciences, especially in view of shortages in various healthcare professions. There is no freedom unless all are free. That means that the civil rights of pharmacists, doctors, nurses, and all other healthcare entities must be protected. No one should have a right to violate another's rights. A patient's right to procure certain services stops where that choice violates the rights of other individuals.

The nationwide trend of attack on conscience affects all who are involved in the healthcare industry. An attack on one is an attack on every one. We must stand together to protect conscience rights universally. Even those whose ideologies differ from those of CNES should recognize the danger to their own constitutional and civil rights should conscience rights be abolished for some.


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