Conscientious objection

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 59 , No. 6 , July August 2017 , Pages 297-298 Letters

Hardly a day goes by without a letter/blog/essay/opinion piece about assisted suicide or MAID. To me, it is clear that no person is under a legal duty—contractual, statutory, or otherwise—to participate in any treatment to which he or she has a conscientious objection.


Hardly a day goes by without a letter/blog/essay/opinion piece about assisted suicide or MAID. To me, it is clear that no person is under a legal duty—contractual, statutory, or otherwise—to participate in any treatment to which he or she has a conscientious objection. Undoubtedly the words participate and any treatment are spring loaded and bound to elicit strong emotions and disagreement among readers. For me personally, helping a terminally ill patient into the afterlife with terminal sedation is one thing. But if participate describes an act that begins with the administration of a drug to induce death, and terminates when such a death occurs, then it is definitely not for me. Especially if such an action is not taken to alleviate pain or suffering, but simply to end a miserable and undignified life: a needle in the vein to obtain a “good death,” whatever that may mean.

Having said that, I wonder what are we to make of conscientious objectors who refuse to refer or even talk to these patients or their families? Where do you draw the line, legally and morally, to participate or not? Referring them, counseling them, allowing them into your office, refusing to take a phone call, refusing to sign a paper, refusing to sit next to them on a bus?

Perhaps it is about the definition of the words or concept to participate. One might reasonably presume that our benevolent Parliament respects moral and religious convictions and will be slow to impose on any person a duty to participate in an act he or she views as gravely wrong. I have no doubts that Parliament, and all those who have promoted and encouraged MAID, had a narrow definition in mind: performing the actual act to terminate a life. I think that perhaps too many physicians have taken an overly broad meaning, which may cover some things, or anything, or everything, done in connection with MAID.

May I suggest that we do not have the evidence with which to resolve these arguments? We are not equipped to gauge what effect either a wide or narrow construction of the conscience clause would have on the delivery of terminal care services. Our only safe course is to make the best sense of what we have.

To my fellow conscientious objectors, I would advocate a narrow interpretation. Providing health care to a diverse and multicultural society is hard enough. Accept the implications of biopolitics and the redrawing of the relations between life and death. Assisting peripherally should not be seen as terminating a life. It will not define you as a bad person. But if you should view it as such, or see it as a form of punishment or a moral test, so be it. But let me suggest that as compensation life has given you brains, character, and a head start in our complex society. Use that privilege benevolently.
—Kobus de Jager, MBBS
Victoria

Kobus de Jager, MBBS. Conscientious objection. BCMJ, Vol. 59, No. 6, July, August, 2017, Page(s) 297-298 - Letters.



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