The coming of medical martyrdom

By Wesley Smith

Wesley Smith

Wesley Smith

Doctors don’t take the Hippocratic Oath anymore, and haven’t for several decades. The oath’s ethical proscriptions against participating in abortion and assisted suicide cut against the contemporary moral grain, leading medical schools to dumb it down or dispose of it altogether in order to comport with modern sensibilities. Still, despite abortion’s ubiquitous legality and the accelerating push to normalize assisted suicide, space remains for dissenting doctors to practice their art in the traditional Hippocratic manner.

But that space is diminishing. Today, “patient rights” are paramount; the competent customer is always right and, hence, held to be entitled to virtually any legal procedure from “service providers” for which payment can be made—be it abortion, assisted suicide, or, someday perhaps, embryonic stem cell therapies and products made from cloned and aborted human fetuses.

Hippocratic-believing professionals, such as faithful Catholics and Muslims, are increasingly being pressured to practice medicine without regard to their personal faith or conscience beliefs. This moral intolerance is slowly being imbedded into law. Victoria, Australia, for example, legally requires all doctors to perform—or be complicit in—abortions: If a patient requests a legal termination and the doctor has moral qualms, he is required to refer her to a colleague who will do the deed.

Such laws are a prescription for medical martyrdom, by which I mean doctors being forced to choose between adhering to their faith or moral code and remaining in their profession. Some have already suffered for their beliefs. During a speaking tour of Australia in 2010, I met doctors who had moved from their homes in Victoria to escape the abortion imposition. I asked them what they would do if Victoria’s law were to go national. “Quit medicine,” they all said, or move to another country.

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