Udo Schuklenk: Recommended Reading

In the first line of one of his My Secret Atheist Blog posts, Sean McGuire says,

It would appear that we’re approaching a time when nothing will get done in our country unless we run it past religious folk for their permission first.

So it should come as no surprise that Udo Schuklenk addresses this phenomenon in his latest post: “Conscientious Objection in Medicine: Private Ideological Convictions Must Not Supersede Public Service Obligations.” While conscientious objection and ideological convictions are not always based on religious convictions, they most frequently are religious.

In his post, Schuklenk discusses the Canadian Medical Association’s claim that

No physician in the country should be forced to play a role in any aspect of assisted dying against their moral or religious beliefs — including referring patients to another doctor willing to help them die.

The objections to playing a role in any aspect of assisted dying are the latest in a series of physicians’ objections to providing health care that goes against their conscience: prescribing birth control and performing abortions, tubal ligations and vasectomies.

While Schuklenk is sympathetic to individual doctors’ crisis of conscience, he is unequivocal in insisting that

Patients are entitled to receive uniform service delivery from health care professionals. They ought not to be subjected to today’s conscientious objection lottery.

As Schuklenk points out,

The odd thing about conscientious objections is that there is no way to find out whether they are genuine or just a matter of convenience. Even if they were genuinely held beliefs, why should that constitute a sound reason for refusing service delivery?

and goes on to say,

The very idea that we ought to countenance conscientious objection in any profession is objectionable.

This is more than a play on words. The very idea that doctors want to influence the moral or religious behaviour of their patients is more than objectionable: it’s odious.

Physician, heal thyself!

2 thoughts on “Udo Schuklenk: Recommended Reading

  1. My non-atheist friends, who mostly espouse a “fuzzy spirituality” hinged on the fanciful notion that “there must be something more”, often ask me why I care so deeply about secularism. “We are secular”, they might say, “and religion plays little role in today’s secular world, in fact we could probably do with a little more religion then we have”. Always chills me to the bone but they are honestly not attuned to the “Bible creep” going on in Canada. In a publicly funded system, in a profession who’s first duty is to patient health, there is simply no room for such fanciful moralizing. I ask, why are they in the profession in the first place? They sat through lectures in University that covered this ground and may have participated in procedures, all to get their MD and then decide they have a moral crisis? Perhaps I’m stretching the point here but, clearly, the choice doctor’s have to make is not which God or moral creed to follow but how best to serve their patients physical health needs. If the imperative to a morality which conflicts with patient care is so strong, then make a truly conscientious stand and leave the profession. You can’t ask patients to bear the brunt of your moral squeamishness. It is one thing in Toronto to offer referrals to other patient care options, but if one lives in a one doctor town, how does that doctor get to choose who gets what medical attention? Not acceptable.

  2. I will certainly read Schuklenk’s post carefully, but just based on the excerpts here I have to wonder about his denouncement of conscientious objection “in any profession.” As a licensed engineer, I’m keen on public awareness of what a “profession” is – a self-regulating body with a code of ethics. If that’s how Schuklenk takes “profession,” then fine – I agree with him.
    If, however, he takes “profession” more broadly – as many people unfortunately do these days – then one must wonder. An easy example is conscientious objection by conscripted persons during the Vietnam War. With a broader definition of “profession,” it would seem Schuklenk would have been against those objectors….

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