Letter on Conscience Rights
[Following is another letter by Bishop F.B. Henry of Canada regarding the
conscience rights of medical professionals.]
July 30, 1997
Mr. Ian Pattison
Editorial Page Editor
75 South Cumberland St.
Thunder Bay, ON, P7B IA3
Once again I find myself indebted to the Chronicle-Journal for publishing Mr.
Jobbitt's and Mr. Potts' letter, which appeared under the heading, "Bishop's
letter doesn't explain whole issue." It affords me the opportunity to point out
the half truths they have offered for public consumption and to expose even
further their blatant hypocrisy.
First of all, the wording of The Letter of Understanding between the two
hospitals does read: "Nurses transferring to Thunder Bay Regional could be
required to participate in clinical abortions..." Note the operative word
"could." The St. Joseph's human resource team felt comfortable with the
agreement language because the "table discussions" with TBRH and the nurses
union (ONA) seemed to indicate that TBRH would make every effort to reassign
nurses who did not want to assist with abortions. If they were bargaining in
good faith, why does the operating room nurse manager at TBRH now insist that
all OR nurses "must" assist with therapeutic abortions and that no
exceptions can be made? What happened to the institutional commitment?
Furthermore, TBRH makes allowances and accommodations for TBRH staff working on
medical-surgical units when saline abortions are initiated if and when staff
have a problem with performing this duty. If TBRH nurses have been accommodated
yet nurses transferring from St. Joseph's have not been and will not be, it
seems that we have a clear-cut case of discrimination. Their action is
tantamount to nailing a sign on the operating room door: "Catholic nurses need
not apply to work here." Is it any wonder that I might raise the question: "Are
Secondly, it is disconcerting that the significant concerns of some staff
regarding abortions would be so callously dismissed by referring to the College
of Nurses of Ontario Ethical Guidelines. While these guidelines indicate a nurse
cannot abandon a patient, the suggestion that elective clients who are admitted
to TBRH for clinical abortions would be abandoned by nurses declining
participation in the abortion on the grounds of moral objection extends the term
"abandon" beyond a reasonable definition. Such equivocation would be picked up
by any student in elementary logic.
Rather than consider staff as their most precious resource and treat them
with respect, care and compassion during a painful and difficult time of
transition, TBRH has chosen to hide behind a text that was not designed to
address our precise issue. The words of Jesus come readily to mind: "They tie up
heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they
themselves are unwilling to life a finger to move them.... Woe to you, scribes
and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have
neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is
these you ought to have practised without neglecting the others. You blind
guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! (Mt. 23: 4, 23)."
Thirdly, there is their spurious claim: "... the hospital is aware of one
individual who has stated a concern in dealing with abortions." I cannot believe
their gall in constantly repeating this falsehood. Two other individuals have
approached me personally and I so informed the above named hospital officials
but they continue to talk of one individual. Although our language has not been
parabolic, these hospital officials do resemble the Pharisees: "seeing they do
not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand"
For the sake of argument I have even suggested to them that we assume that
there is only one individual and so what's the harm of putting in place a
conscience policy as a sign of good faith. They have countered: "We can't do
that, we won't have enough nurses to assist with abortions." They don't seem to
be aware of the logical fallacy of trying to have it both ways. It's either a
problem of one individual or it's problematic for several, it can't be both.
When they were presented with a draft of a strict conscience policy that would
have alleviated their major concern, it was summarily dismissed.
Fourthly, they allege that the one individual's "reluctance is not for
religious or moral reasons, but for reasons of personal discomfort." I would
suggest that they have understated the trauma of the individual in question. In
her own words she says: "The intensity of my physical and emotional anxiety has
caused me great stress and has led me to contact the Health Nurse who referred
me to the EAP program". Remember, we are talking about an experienced (eleven
years) certified peri-operative nurse. It's too bad that I didn't have a video
camera with me to catch the reaction of our hospital officials when I asked them
the question: "Given her background and experience, if her problems are not
ethically, morally or religiously based, can you offer me a sufficient and
necessary explanation to account for her physiological reaction? Has anyone
asked her why this procedure is so upsetting?" After a moment of silence, their
feeble response was, "No, not in those words."
I wish I could convince myself that their rigidity was based on some
defensible principle(s), even invincible ignorance, but "Please don't talk to us
about facts, we already have our minds made up" seems to be their stance.
+ F. B. Henry
Bishop of Thunder Bay.