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

Service, not Servitude

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 

Gerhard Cardinal Müller*
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 . . . 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.