Loading articles...

Doctors who refuse service on moral grounds are 'abusive' argues ethicist

Last Updated Sep 22, 2016 at 8:11 am PDT

(Courtesy cma.ca)

He suggests medical schools screen for students unable to get around personal values

One professor says doctors are expected to behave professionally, despite their personal beliefs

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Doctors have a professional obligation to put their morals aside and provide you with any legal medical service you need. That argument comes from a prominent Canadian bioethicist, adding fuel to the debate over issues like abortion and medically assisted death.

Professor Udo Schuklenk even suggests medical schools could screen for students who are unable to get around personal values to perform professional duties.

“Traditionally we have accepted that there is something honourable about respecting doctors who object on grounds of conscience to the provision of certain professional services and we think we ought to accommodate them,” says Schuklenk, the Ontario research chair in Bioethics at Queen’s University in Kingston. “My problem with this attitude is that I think it is abusive behaviour. When you think about conscientious objection, you’ll find that it’s never a professional decision.”

Schuklenk believes doctors should be expected to behave professionally, not provide services based on their private beliefs.

Many doctors and religious groups oppose his views, calling them an intolerant attack on conscientious objection but Schuklenk says no one is forcing anyone to enter the profession. “When we take up a job, we know perfectly well what we have to deliver in terms of the scope of the job description,” he argues. “All of these doctors knew when they joined the profession that it would include the provision of abortion and it will also soon include the provision of medically aided dying. They also knew that job descriptions can change. Society ultimately decides the scope of the profession. If you don’t like it, do not join the profession.”

Schuklenk asserts it is perfectly reasonable to screen medical students who are unable to put aside moral values. “If we know that particular kinds of people join the profession to throw a spanner in the works and try to subvert the system, the answer to the problem is that we be very careful when we admit students to medical school, ensuring that they are willing to provide services.”

Federal legislation pertaining to medically assisted dying in Canada says no doctor should be forced to provide or take part in the practice. However, in provinces like Ontario, doctors who have objections are required to refer patients to a physician willing to do it.

Schuklenk has co-authored a paper outlining his arguments published today in the journal Bioethics.