Daily Archives: December 6, 2008

Paging Doctor Morality…

I have a question.  I suppose I’m directing it at those of you in the medical profession more than anyone else (Hi, Doc!  Hi NurseExec!), but, as usual, I value everyone’s input.

It seems that the Bush administration is planning to announce a broad new “right of conscience” rule.  The way I understand it (and I’m admitting right here and out loud that my understanding of this is very limited), the rule already allows doctors and nurses to refuse to perform abortions.  The expanded rule would extend coverage to far more people – including pharmacists and even, according to the article I read, “the employee whose task it is to clean the instruments” – and to more activities, including, ostensibly, administering birth control and other medications.

I’ve already heard a bunch of stories about pharmacists refusing to dispense drugs.  Recently, it seems, a Walgreen’s was involved in a to-do with a woman seeking an emergency contraception pill, and though I can’t cite it here because it’s been a while, I do remember hearing something about a pharmacist who refused to dispense birth control pills to a sixteen-year-old.  This doesn’t work for me.  If a doctor prescribes a medication, it’s not for the pharmacist to decide whether or not that patient should receive it.  I have a great deal of respect for pharmacists and I understand that they do important and necessary work, but I certainly don’t want my dispensary deciding whether or not I should have access to the medications my physician prescribes.

I’m still not sure how I feel about doctors having the right to withhold treatments – or even information – from patients because of their own beliefs and feelings.  My thinking is this; a physician, it would seem to me – as someone who is trained in the arts of medicine and healing – has the moral obligation to lay out all the available options for any situation and let the PATIENT make the moral decisions about his or her care.  Shouldn’t the ultimate responsibility for morality in medicine lay with the patient, anyway?

If one isn’t interested in performing all the tasks required of one’s profession, then perhaps one should go into a different profession – or choose a different specialty.  I do not think that a practitioner should be forced to do anything that goes contrary to his or her beliefs – I certainly wouldn’t want anyone operating on me who resented having to do it, I can tell you that for certain.  What I am saying, though, is if you’re morally opposed to abortion, don’t become an OB/GYN; go into ophthalmology or become an ear, nose and throat guy, instead.  If you happen to be a general practitioner and a patient comes to you seeking a procedure or a product that you feel morally uncomfortable administering, refer that patient to someone who will have no such qualms.  I don’t think it is right for, say, Catholic doctors, for example, to withhold information about or access to contraceptives simply because such things go against their own religion.  While I don’t think that doctor should have to write a prescription for birth control pills or insert an IUD or perform a vasectomy, I also don’t think it’s right for that doctor to block his or her patients from receiving those things.  Those patients should be referred to someone else.  Can that same doctor refuse to treat someone because the doctor discovers that the patient is homosexual?  Where does this sort of thing end?

Isn’t the aim of doctors to care for a person’s body?  Let’s leave the care of a person’s soul to the priests, reverends, imams, rabbis, shamans, and holy one and, not for nothing, to the patients themselves.

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