Christian Living

Object to the Procedure, Not the Patient

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 02/27/2015

A doctor in Michigan wrongly refused to take a lesbian couple’s baby as a patient. This is simply a misunderstanding and misapplication of the conscience rights people have been fighting for. No one should be forced to participate in procedures or events one objects to, but it’s a different matter to refuse to treat or serve someone because one objects to him or her personally.

The doctor’s stated reasoning for rejecting the patient was this: “After much prayer following your prenatal (visit), I felt that I would not be able to develop the personal patient doctor relationship that I normally do with my patients.” Either this doctor did not think carefully through this situation (not understanding the distinction between objecting to procedures and objecting to patients, thinking it would go against her conscience to serve lesbians), or she was basing this decision on her expected inability to connect with the parents because they’re lesbians.

If the second is the case, what a lost opportunity as a Christian! As ambassadors of Christ, it’s our honor to serve people in love, thereby demonstrating to others the mercy Christ showed us. How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear if we don’t allow them in our presence?

If the first is the case, we need to do a better job of informing people’s consciences. There’s a world of difference between not participating in a lesbian wedding by providing the flowers and not selling flowers to someone because she’s a lesbian. There’s a problem with gay activists blurring this distinction; let’s not add to this problem by making the same mistake.

In response to this story, Wesley J. Smith reposted some medical conscience guidelines he created to help people evaluate situations such as this one:

– Except in rare and compelling circumstances in which a patient’s life is at stake, no medical professional should be compelled to perform or participate in procedures or treatments that take human life.

– The rights of conscience should apply most strongly in elective procedures, that is, medical treatments not required to extend the life of, or prevent serious harm to, the patient.

– It should be the procedure that is objectionable, not the patient. In this way, for example, physicians could not refuse to treat a lung-cancer patient because the patient smoked or to maintain the life of a patient in a vegetative state because the physician believed that people with profound impairments do not have a life worth living.

– No medical professional should ever be forced to participate in a medical procedure intended primarily to facilitate the patient’s lifestyle preferences or desires (in contrast to maintaining life or treating a disease or injury).

You can read the rest of his proposed guidelines here. As he says of this pediatrician story, “[T]his isn’t an example of the kind of case in which conscience protections should apply.”