Doctors and religion
Should doctors impose their religious beliefs on their patients?
When both Canada and the United States were setting up their constitutions as independent countries, they both concluded that there must be separation between the churches and the state. Religion must be allowed to be practised openly in all faiths but neither religion nor government should be able to hold power over each other. They must be separate entities.
So why should a doctor be allowed to refuse a treatment or a procedure to a patient because of his or her own personal religious or even moral beliefs?
The last time I checked, the days of doctors being Gods are about over. Maybe some of the older generation still feel that way but the new young graduates are much more sophisticated and open with their patients.
This whole controversy has erupted because of a young Ottawa woman who visited a walk-in clinic to get her birth control prescription renewed. The physician on duty refused because he did not believe in contraception. This is a totally ridiculous situation and no physician should be allowed to impose morals or judge their patients.
When John F.Kennedy was elected president he was a religious practising Catholic and there was a great amount of controversy about whether he would be more loyal to the Pope than the people of the United States. Of course as President, the United States came first and this did not interfere with his moral beliefs or religion.
We have doctors in this country from all over the world with a mixed bag of moral and religious beliefs depending on their backgrounds. We do not want to change any of this. We just don’t want them to mix their moral and religious beliefs with their medical practice.
Should there be a policy that forces doctors to provide treatments and procedures that they find morally objectionable? There are no more places in New Brunswick to get an abortion because the last pro- choice doctor left the province and all the rest are pro-life and refuse to do abortions.
What if your surgeon is a Jehovah’s Witness and refuses to allow a blood transfusion even though it may save your life or the life of a loved one. Many physicians do not believe in circumcision for male infants. Should you not have the right to choose if your baby boy is circumcised or not?
Then we have the issue of home births and mid-wives. Many expectant people are choosing this option today but what if their physician takes it away from them because they believe the hospital setting is better.
Sex-change patients are increasingly in the news. What if the physician does not believe in the change and refuses to prescribe the necessary hormones to complete the change?
At the present time, the College of Physicians and Surgeons is in the midst of reassessing its policies governing moral and religious beliefs of physicians. Its website has drawn thousands of comments from doctors as well as the public.
The confusing part about trying to regulate doctors is where you draw the line between integrity and ethical standards and moral and religious ones. Maybe a doctor does not want to prescribe antibiotics for an obvious viral infection; maybe a doctor does not want to give out a prescription for narcotics because in his or her opinion the patient is a drug addict. Maybe the doctor refused to prescribe Viagra because he felt it was dangerous for the patient and not because his religion forbids sex for pleasure. We cannot legislate or even know what is going on in the minds of our physicians.
The reality is that these doctors who refuse treatments are a very tiny minority. Most doctors are very busy and just go with the flow. The baby is sick. No tests are done and a prescription for a week’s supply of antibiotics is written immediately. You need some sleeping pills, an antidepressant, a pain reliever or whatever and you get it quickly. Some doctors call this grocery store medicine but it is how medicine is practised today. If you have a symptom and your physician has a drug that takes it away, then in a few minutes you are out of the office and both are happy.
Physicians have enough rules to abide by as to when they can order tests, refer you to a specialist, or get you an MRI or CT scan in a hospital, and all the forms they have to fill out. To do so you would think they would not impose more rigid standards upon themselves.
Religion is part of our heritage and just recently three Catholic priests issued a statement in a debate about euthanasia that said “No Canadian citizen, including any physician, should ever be disciplined or risk losing their professional standing for conducting their work in conformity with their most deeply held ethical or religious convictions.” They also said that “we have arrived at the worst possible time in Canadian history to turn doctors into mere mechanics whose duty is to blindly do the biding of their clients.”
As I said earlier, physicians who impose religious and moral beliefs in their practice are a small minority and in the case of the Ottawa girl she just needs to go to another clinic and she will get her prescription. The danger lies in under serviced rural communities in which just a few physicians can have a severe impact on the population of their patients. The health of their patients should not be affected by their moral and religious beliefs but it is happening because of a shortage of needed health profesionals.