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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude
Legal Commentary

Re: Wisconsin Assembly Bill 67

Testimony before Wisconsin Senate Committee
on Health, Children, Families, Aging and Long-Term Care
October 7, 2003

Matthew B. Lee, MD, FACOG

I would like to thank the committee and Chairperson Roessler for hearing my testimony to AB 67. My name is Matthew Lee. I am a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist in private practice at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I have been there in practice for four years. I have a clinical appointment at the Medical College of Wisconsin as a Clinical Associate Professor.

At first when I heard about this bill I had no thoughts about coming to Madison and making my views known. The bill seemed to make sense and did not seem too controversial. Wisconsin already has "conscience clause" legislation and fair employment laws. AB 67 seemed to me to be an update of this legislation with regard to developing technologies and making the employment law more enforceable. However, I began to hear many criticisms of the bill and thought that I could help answer some of those critics.

I will first divulge my bias on these issues. I will stick to reproductive issues since that is my main field. I view abortion as morally wrong in all cases except for an immediate need to save the life of the mother. (Here I use the Webster's dictionary definition for life not the U. S. Supreme Court's definition). I recognize that abortion is legal in the United States as regulated by states. My view is that most contraception is not abortion, however the IUD is troubling enough morally to preclude my usage. I perform sterilization procedures. I am opposed to using fetal tissue for research.

As I understand it, the opposition to this legislation revolves around the following arguments. First, that this legislation would reduce the rights of Wisconsin citizens. Second, that a law already exists. Third, some covered activities are illegal in Wisconsin already. Fourth, as regards to employment discrimination, no one has complained about workplace discrimination. Lastly, although not stated but implied, pharmacist are in no need of the same protection that current state law extends to hospitals, nurses, and physicians.

Instead of answering each of these charges separately, I believe I can boil these problems down to two issues that are at the heart of this debate. First the question: Is the practice of medicine morally neutral? By that I mean can I as a physician divorce my own beliefs about life from my practice? Do you really want your physician to be amoral? My covenant with my patient is to do all that I can to treat her and to respect her autonomy. A covenant has two parties however, and it is my duty to tell my patient that I cannot participate in an act that is contrary to my convictions. The physician has autonomy in this relationship as well. The people of the State of Wisconsin speaking through their elected officials agree with this proposition as expressed through the current "conscience clause" legislation.

This brings me to my next point: consistency. The arguments against this proposed legislation seem to be devoid of consistency. I have as yet to hear anyone call for the elimination of our current law, most seem to accept it as fact. However, a right to exercise conscience either exists or it does not. Conscience is by definition a personal worldview. Thoughtful people of faith will disagree on issues such as abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research or sterilization. This proposed legislation logically extends the same protection granted for abortion and sterilization to activities that are trapped in similar ethical quagmires.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.


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