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Bishop FB Henry on Conscience Rights

July 10, 1997

Mr. Ian Pattison

The Chronicle-Journal

Editorial Page Editor

75 South Cumberland St.

Thunder Bay, ON, P7B IA3

Dear Sir:

I would like to commend the Chronicle Journal for its willingness to feature Pamela Bron's story, Medicine & Morals: Is There Room for Both in Our Present Day Health Care System? If we're talking about Thunder Bay Regional Hospital, apparently not! In this institution administrative convenience in scheduling runs roughshod over ethical considerations.

When I made my first inquiry into whether Catholic and non-Catholic nurses transferring from St. Joseph's Hospital due to hospital restructuring were being forced to participate in abortions, I was informed by a senior board member and an administrator that it really isn't a problem as it only involves one nurse. That response, probably proffered as an attempt at damage control, turned out to be totally false. Since that time others nurses have acknowledged the same force or compulsion and have sought the help and assistance of their parish priests.

Given the current down-sizing of staff in our local health care delivery system, some nurses are afraid to speak out or make their disapproval known as they fear for their jobs. My own attempts, beginning on May 23, to intervene quietly with hospital officials in order to find a solution to this current dilemma have met with little success. Hospital officials continue to stonewall and stall, to deny, and reminiscent of Pilate, wash their hands of any institutional responsibility.

One administrator is quoted as saying that if nurses don't want to participate in abortions, they have the option of switching shifts if they can find someone to take over their shift (emphasis added). The hidden assumption here seems to be that abortion is such a popular job that nurses line up waiting for a chance to participate. The truth of the matter is that even the veteran nurses at the TB Regional are not totally at ease with their role but the administration doesn't want to acknowledge or face this reality either.

When Sault Ste. Marie Plummer and General Hospitals dealt with their consolidated Operating Room Programme in Sault Ste. Marie they adopted the following principled stance: "Regardless of where the consolidated OR may be located, the Hospital shall make a reasonable effort to accommodate a nurse's religious beliefs. Notwithstanding the above, any nurse presently working in the OR at the Sault Ste. Marie General Hospital shall not be required to assist with any procedure that is not consistent with the philosophy of the Catholic Church." A similar agreement was reached in Peterborough. As a matter of fact, it is quite common practice in public hospitals that nurses are not compelled to assist with abortions if their conscience so dictates. The institution is to provide for and to facilitate the exercise of "conscientious objection" in order to protect individual freedom while at the same time continuing to fulfill its mission.

One can only speculate as to why our local hospital policy makers have not chosen to take the high road and copy such a sensitive and balanced approach? When the deficiencies in the current Human Resources Plan are pointed out to them, why are they so intransigent? Don't they care about the moral principles and religious beliefs of their employees? Are they anti-Catholic?

Based on the public statements reported in this newspaper, the administration certainly appears to be ethically confused, if not morally vacuous, likening the abortion issue to the treatment of HIV-positive patients. The point is not abandonment of a patient or the refusal of treatment to individuals who have had abortions or to HIV-positive patients; such patients have the right to receive professional care from nursing staff. However, the nurses transferring from St. Joseph's are coming out of a tradition that believes that human life is inviolable; it must be defended and promoted, reverenced and loved. An abortion is the direct killing of an innocent human being. In such a tradition to participate in an abortion is to assist in murder. I think that certainly constitutes "abandonment" of one of the patients involved. We are dealing with different category questions.

Given that abortion is elective surgery, and not life threatening (unless you happen to be the child in the womb), it's sadly ironic that in our times when we tend to exalt freedom of choice - a woman can choose to have an abortion, a doctor can choose to perform or not perform an abortion, but a nurse and the unborn child have absolutely no choice in the matter. Shame on you, Thunder Bay Regional Hospital!

Sincerely yours,

+  F.B. Henry

Bishop of Thunder Bay

Priests for Life
PO Box 236695 • Cocoa, FL 32923
Tel. 321-500-1000, Toll Free 888-735-3448 •