Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Can It Ever Be Ethical to Let a Woman Die? Australia Debates The Conscience Clause.

From Crickey comes a story by Leslie Cannold about the struggle in Australia over a proposed conscience clause law which would require doctors to only perform an abortion if the life of a woman is in jeopardy:

...opponents of legal abortion argue that rights of medical professionals and Catholic health institutions to refuse care to women seeking abortions is absolute. Even where such denial could see a woman die, they maintain that refusing to provide an abortion is the right, and their right, to do.

There is much that is offensive, even shocking, about the absolutist nature of such assertions. However important is religious freedom, it does not trump other rights. However important medical professionals are, their rights are no weightier than those held by others — certainly not their patients to whom they owe a duty of care. In fact, even if religious and conscience rights were trumping, there’s still arguments about whose religion or conscience — the doctor’s or the woman’s — should prevail when conflicts arise over abortion care.

Where the rights of women seeking abortions are taken seriously (and these include their right to follow the dictates of their conscience, to informed decision making about their health, to timely medical care and to life), the absolutist approach seems inadequate at best. At worst, it seems to disregard the pregnant woman’s basic humanity.

Perhaps this fact is why most of those arguing for a change to Victoria’s conscience clause rarely mention women by name. They don’t directly say, “we don’t care if women die, doctors conscience rights are supreme”.

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