By Wesley J. Smith
I have been following — and criticizing — the bioethics movement for more than twenty years. As I see it, the mainstream view seeks to instill a utilitarianist philosophy on both the ethics of medicine and the public policies of health care, including where “common morality” — as the views of the great unwashed is sometimes denigrated in the field — disagrees.
Legalized euthanasia, free and unfettered abortion at all stages of gestation, infanticide, eugenic embryo engineering, invidious forms of health-care rationing based on “quality of life,” etc., are all part of the mainstream bioethics agenda, or at the very least, are seen as respectable advocacy memes.
Catholic medical practice is the great impediment to pulling off this culture-subverting mission. Indeed, Catholic hospitals were established — at great private expense — with the explicit purpose of providing medical care consistent with the sanctity of life ethic of the Catholic Church. For example, Catholic hospitals will not sterilize patients, participate in abortion, or assist suicides. Similarly, some Catholic doctors refuse to practice outside their faith precepts. (Of course, these doctors should always make their faith-based approach clear to prospective patients.)
Most bioethicists, it is fair to say, seek to destroy Catholic institutions’ and professionals’ medical conscience rights and force them (and other religious or conscience dissenters) to adhere to the advancing utilitarian bioethical imperative. Thus, in the last few years repeated articles have been published in the world’s most influential medical and bioethics journals arguing that doctors are ethically bound to provide all establishment-approved medical interventions a patient wants — even when it violates their own faith beliefs — or find a doctor who will (sometimes called an “effective referral”).
Meanwhile, to the applause of many bioethicists, the ACLU has mounted repeated lawsuits against Catholic hospitals, charging them with discrimination for practicing Catholic medicine.
Now, the well known Canadian bioethicist Udo Schuklenk, writing in the very influential Journal of Medical Ethics, openly declares that religion has no place whatsover in medicine or a doctor’s approach to providing patient care. From, “Professionalism Eliminates Religion as a Proper Tool for Doctors Rendering Advice to Patients.”
Doctors are sought out by patients as professionals in their professional role, and not as private individuals with particular other political, moral, religious or other commitments.
Schuklenk knows that isn’t true. Some patients seek out particular doctors precisely because they want a physician who agrees with their religious views and whom they can trust to treat them consistently therewith. But he doesn’t care:
Doctors, in their role as doctors, have no professional competencies when it comes to religion, even if there was such a thing as professional competencies in the context of faith to begin with. Accordingly, when doctors are seeing a patient in their professional role, the healthcare professionals’ private life, and that includes their ideological, non-professional commitments, should be kept out of their professional life and conduct…That is so, even in case of particular doctors who happen to share the religious or other ideological preferences of (some of) their patients. That shared preference does not render them experts on that subject matter. Accordingly, it does not belong in the healthcare professional–patient relationship.
Schucklenk is clearly advocating that Catholic (or other faithful) patients shouldn’t have the right to choose doctors they know practice medicine consistently with their own faith beliefs — because he believes that doctors should be prevented from so doing. Moreover, removing all personal religion from medical practice would force religious doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others to serve as functionaries of medicine’s increasingly dominant utilitarian paradigm — even in circumstances in which the professionals believes that participation in the requested intervention would be a grievous sin. Wow.
If Schucklenk’s approach were ever fully incorporated into our health-care system — which, make no mistake, is the plan — it would obliterate the very point of Catholic hospitals. That would drive many Catholics and other religious believers out of the medical professions (and inhibit talented young people who believe in the sanctity of human life from entering), while advancing a rigid utilitarian bioethics that would victimize the most weak and vulnerable patients — not coincidentally, the very people whom “Catholic” medicine most assiduously protects.
Editor’s note. Wesley’s great columns appear at National Review Online and are reposted with his permission.