Christian Physicians Address President’s Council on Bioethics on Conscience Rights

Four Christian Medical Association members testified on September 12 before the President’s Council on Bioethics on the issue of conscience rights in healthcare. These testimonies are, to me, very convincing and hopefully will help more and more of us support a healthcare professional’s right to exercise his or her conscience when it comes to deeply-held religious or moral beliefs.

Excerpts below:

Jonathan Imbody, CMA Vice President for Government Relations: “As life-honoring medical students, residents, physicians and other healthcare professionals are systematically forced out of the field of obstetrics and gynecology, their loss ultimately impacts patients. Their loss will impact life-affirming pregnant women who specifically seek physicians, as my wife did, who share their views and do not participate in abortions. Their loss will especially impact poor patients, since faith -based and other conscientious physicians and institutions are among the most likely to be caring for the underserved. And their loss will impact the medical community, which is enriched by the reminder that time-tested objective standards of medical ethics protect patients and constrain the physician to first do no harm.”

Sandy Christiansen, MD, representing CareNet: “As an OB/Gyn who has chosen not to perform elective terminations of pregnancy, I can attest to the difficulties and pressures that physicians face when attempting to practice according to their conscience. When I began my residency in 1986, I fully expected it to be physically and emotionally draining, but I wasn’t prepared for the intolerance and hostility that I would face because of my faith. I was the only intern who elected to not perform abortions, and it was understood that it was because of my Christian convictions. One of my fellow interns was frequently given the opportunity to scrub in on gynecologic cases, and I approached my chief resident and inquired, ‘I would like the same opportunity.’ And she said, ‘Well, this person was working hard at doing the abortions, and so she gained this privilege, which you refused to do, so you do not get the perk.’”

Karl Benzio, MD, representing Lighthouse Network: ” As a teenager in Northern Jersey as an Italian with friends involved in organized crime, I was approached to go to medical school for free, residency for free, undergrad for free, and have a very nice practice. In response, I would be able to give certain care to their constituency as well as cover up mistakes. Interestingly, they approached me because of my trustability, then asked me to practice unconscionably as a result. When physicians do lethal things, it erodes the trust that doctors and patients have in each other. It interferes with the openness of communication that patients can have. It also opens the door wide open of the slippery slope that lead to other, more egregious behaviors in that, as Dr. Pope presented, that bubble of intractable cases grows and grows and grows larger.”

Donna Harrison, MD, representing American Association of Pro Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “All of these current issues arise from the continuous professional harassment which pro-life physicians experience from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. ACOG’s effort to eliminate pro-life obstetricians and gynecologists from practicing is long standing. We have been battling the right of conscientious refusal for the last twenty years, as illustrated by the past and current continuous effort to make participation in abortions mandatory for OB/Gyn residents in training programs. I also experienced very similar harassment as Dr. Christiansen during my residency program.” 

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