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

Service, not Servitude

Nurses Fight for Freedom

21 out of 30 paediatric nurses resign

Mississauga, Ontario, Canada (1988)

The Interim March, 1988
Reproduced with permission

Michael Otis

"The consequences for not meeting these expectations," warns Bachle, "will be disciplinary action immediately, up to and including termination."

Some Toronto area hospitals are forcing nurses to perform abortions. At a press conference called on February 16 by Nurses for Life, spokeswomen Kathleen Winarski and Helen McGee detailed the situation of nurses who face discrimination or loss of employment for refusing to assist with abortions. In a letter released to the press, Margaret Madill, President of Nurses for Life called upon Health Minister Elinor Caplan to "give nurses the assurance that their personal and/or religious beliefs will not be violated by forced participation in the termination of human life."

Last month the Paediateric and Gynaecology Departments of Mississauga's Credit Valley Hospital were amalgamated. From now on, therefore, second trimester abortions will be carried out on the pediatric floor itself, by pediatric nurses. . . .

In a memo to the nursing staff, dated January 20, Margaret Bachle, Vice President of the Credit Valley Hospital acknowledged the ethical predicament in which many of the paediatric nurses found themselves. Her solution? "If you do not believe that you can effectively nurse any of the gynacecology patients at a predetermined standard of care, then complete a transfer form in Human Resources within the next week." In other words, a paediatric nurse who cannot assist in or perform an act of murder may certainly apply for a transfer, but ,as the memo implies, she should not expect to be placed where her specific skills will be used to their fullest. A paediatric nurse unwilling to perform what is in direct contradiction to her profession and her conscience would not be mistaken in seeing her transfer to a non-paediatric area of nursing as a punishment for her convictions.

Bachle also laid a double jeopardy on those paediatric nurses who had yet to obtain a transfer before the date of the Gynaecology/Paediatric amalgamation.

"It is expected that each nurse will provide assigned patients a level of nursing care which meets predetermined standards. Patients have a right to expect this," and, the memo continues, the nurse has the responsibility to provide it regardless of whether she "shares the patient's value system or not."

"The consequences for not meeting these expectations," warns Bachle, "will be disciplinary action immediately, up to and including termination."

. . . Credit Valley Hospital made its decision without consulting the very people most deeply affected by it - the nurses themselves. The hospital has shown little or no understanding and compassion for the conscience, careers and training of its paediatric staff . . . it is small wonder that, of the 30 paediatric nurses at Credit Valley Hospital in February, 21 have resigned.

Some Ontario hospitals have added a moral disclaimer to their employment applications. Before a nurse is considered for employment, she must consent to the following:

"I further agree that my personal opinions, private or religious beliefs in respect to certain hospital procedures will not prevent me from carrying out my assigned duties and responsibilities."

The implications of this statement are chilling. The nurse seeking employment at these hospitals (and others which have or intend to have such oral disclaimers) must sign away her right to freedom of conscience. In the hospital's view, her deepest beliefs are insignificant, merely private morality. And when they conflict with "certain hospital procedures" (a euphemism for abortions), they are utterly worthless. . .

The clause is inclusive as to the kinds of duties and responsibilities the nurse may be required to perform. Today, assisting with abortion is the only hospital procedure which requires the nurse to leave aside her conscience. But what of tomorrow? Will "certain procedures" entirely at the hospital's discretion compel her to participate in infanticide, euthanasia, the forced sterilization of individuals and the termination of the unfit?

Disclaimer dropped

The clause is restrictive as to the sort of nurse hospitals will hire in the future. Her suitability will be judged on how immature her ethical awareness is and on how well she does whatever she is told, even if that means destroying human life.Following Nurses for Life's public revelation of, and objection to, this disclaimer, Toronto Western and Women's College Hospitals have agreed to drop the clause from employment applications.

Nurses in Ontario and elsewhere who have a conscientious objection to performing or participating in abortions (and other anti-life procedures) must be protected by law. Precedent for this has existed for more than twenty years in England where under Section 4 of the 1967 Abortion Act, "no person shall be under any participate in any treatment authorized by this Act to which he as a conscientious objection." Similar provisions exist in France and Germany. Premier Grant Devine's government in Saskatchewan is planning to include a conscience clause in its amendments to the Health Act. The Canadian and Ontario Medical Associations, whose members have the right to refuse to perform abortions, support the nurses in principle. Dr. Ted Boadway, the OMA's director of professional services, believes they have "a pretty good case."

At the end of February, Nurses for Life has yet to hear a single word form Ontario Health Minister Elinor Caplan or her aides. She and her Ministry remain silent on an issue of profound moral concern to hundreds of nurses.