I am starting to grow weary of being the contrary voice. I duck out of many confrontations, believe it or not. But, sometimes I still speak up.
More than once, a liberal, pro-choice site has taken a stance against conscience clauses in general. Although I am a pretty vocal pro-choice commenter in the interwebs, I find myself defending conscience clauses in these conversations.
This time, I replied on a Feminists for Choice post asking if conscience clauses were ethical:
I am a medical student and a member of Medical Students for Choice.
I strongly believe in conscience clauses and plan on refusing to perform certain procedures and to dispense certain medications when I am a physician. I think every physician follows her conscience, and am afraid anti-choice activists are using this important part of medical ethics to refuse to provide services that are in the best interest of the patient.
I plan on refusing to perform unnecessary procedures that are requested all the time as an ob/gyn. I will not perform any genital mutilation, male or female. This includes any routine newborn male circumcision, or elective vaginoplasties. This of course does not extend to any medically indicated procedures, which would be in the patient’s best interest.
I will refuse to do labor inductions because a mother is sick of being pregnant or because I am going on vacation. I will refuse to do non medically indicated cesarean section because a mother is afraid of the birth process or wants to have her baby on a certain date, or because I want to get home in time to have dinner with my family on a day I am being paid to be on call.
I think practitioners that are truly ethical do not use conscience clauses as an excuse to deny medical treatments to their patients or clients because of some idea that premarital sex is immoral. It is easy to find work in an area that does not involve refusing to provide necessary medical care. Most of these people who are refusing reproductive health care want to make an issue out of their refusal to control women’s sexual autonomy, not to support their own ethics, and it’s a shame.
There are two students in my medical school class who have stated they will refuse to prescribe birth control. Both identify as Catholic. One was more than happy to take handfuls of condoms our club was passing out for when he has sex with strippers (I wish I was kidding). He said he is using them for disease prevention, not birth control, so he is not a hypocrite.
I hope he goes into radiology, or urology.
The other is a Jesuit priest. He is planning on going into psychiatry, so most likely won’t be in a position to be a birth control prescriber often. He is also honest and out in regards to his homosexuality, and is an activist to change the Catholic position on homosexuality. So, he thinks some rules are meant to be changed.
The point of these two stories is to say, ethics mean different things to different people. Physicians and other health care practitioners are too diverse a group to force into one group of practices. However, we can encourage responsible application of conscience clauses and try to make sure essential health care does not get refused in the process.