The Nature and Necessity of Conscience
Protections for Health Care Providers
From Protecting the Least of Among Us: The
Enduring Universal Wisdom of the Church on Euthanasia
Keynote Address to Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute
Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute (15 May, 2017)
Reproduced with permission
text] . . . Given the gravity of the threat posed by legal
euthanasia, it is essential that we work for its reversal in
the law. But in the meantime, we must take immediate
measures to protect the rights of health care providers who
refuse to collaborate in or facilitate access to euthanasia.
This is not simply a Catholic issue. No one who
trains and takes an oath to care for the sick should be
pressed into ending the lives of the very people that they
have promised to serve.
Indeed, a health care provider's refusal to participate
in euthanasia should not be understood as a request for an
exemption to an otherwise legitimate regime based on unique
and particular beliefs or values. Rather, refusal to
engage in euthanasia represents basic fidelity to the very
medical art that the physician professes. To compel a
doctor to participate in any manner in euthanasia is to
force him to cease being a doctor and to betray the very
profession to which he has given his life.
Why is this so? At the core of the medical art is a
promise to serve the good of this patient. It is a
sacred promise by the doctor to use all of his training,
education, skill, creativity, and compassion to heal, or
where this is not possible, to comfort the patient, and to
accompany him in his suffering. To never abandon the
patient. To "do no harm," as the Hippocratic Oath
enjoins. Thus, the sole orienting objective is to
promote the good of the patient. The good of
the patient in the medical context is health and wholeness,
as discerned by the physician, in light of his training,
experience, and understanding of the patient's unique
circumstances and needs.
To compel a doctor to participate in the annihilation of
the patient that he has promised to care for constitutes a
grave act of violence and direct corruption of the very
logic of the art of medicine. It is, in short, to
coerce the doctor to act against the good of the
patient, which the doctor has sworn an oath never to do.
It is also unjust to force a doctor to refer a patient to
another provider who will act contrary to the good of the
patient by ending his life.
Any law that forces a physician to act against what he
knows to be the most basic good of the patient – the
preservation of his very life, either directly or
indirectly, is unjust.
Proper respect for the art of medicine and for the men
and women who practice it requires robust protections for
those physicians who refuse to participate in euthanasia.