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Leave it to the doctors

Doctors
How many of the surgeons here are OK with this? / Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

A doctor’s major belief is that he/she knows medicine better than you

Article: Patrick Malone

The National Post reported on Mar. 6, 2015 that the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has voted that its Professional and Human Rights policy should state that a patient’s access to medical care should not be impeded by a doctor’s religious and moral convictions. This is an extremely dangerous decision, not only because of its discriminatory nature, effectively barring certain demographics from practicing medicine according to their conscience, but also because it radically effaces the authority of the doctor.

The procedures that are typically cited as examples of care that doctors of a certain bent might refuse to offer are abortion and contraception, and assisted suicide might soon be included. To be frank, abortion and contraception are, in the vast majority of cases, elective. They are not, strictly speaking, necessary medical care. Remember that famous slogan promoting them: “My body, my choice?” If that slogan is true, there is no foundation for forcing that choice on another doctor, least of all by calling it necessary medical treatment.

Furthermore, in the case of contraception, an industry has managed to convince society that its product is necessary to their lives. This is certainly a triumph of marketing, and deserves to be recognized as such, but it is not essential medical care to provide a service that suppresses the normal functions of the body. This has nothing to do with the question of whether or not a moral objection to contraception is tenable. I am not even referring to alleged connections between birth control and, for example, inter-sexed fish or cancer. Instead, the question is whether a patient can compel a doctor to provide a service that is not actually care, and that does not actually treat anything wrong with the patient.

Ultimately, if a doctor is expected to provide whatever service is requested, we are approaching medical care with a consumer mentality. We are not acting as if doctors are authorities on medicine that we consult on matters outside our expertise. We are instead treating them as resources to be exploited, and are unrealistically asserting the patient’s capabilities. We are undermining the authority of the doctor’s judgment if doctors must provide any service that a patient requests, even if the request is unnecessary. There might as well be privatized healthcare, a business where the customer is always right.

Most importantly, if we consider doctors to be something along the lines of vending machines, at the beck and call of patients, and assume that it is the patient that has final authority, we have completely cut off our ability to, for example, criticize parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. In elevating the patient’s authority over the doctor’s, who are we to evaluate the patient’s medical decision, even if a doctor’s best advice is to vaccinate? Who are we to tell parents who refuse to permit their children to have blood transfusions that this is even merely problematic? It’s their choice, after all. There is no longer any way of justifying saying such things. Any realistic public discussion about the private citizen’s medical duties will become incoherent. Doctors can make wrong decisions, but we need to protect their authority in order for medicine to mean anything, and that entails protecting their right to subscribe to a different morality than their patients.

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