Health care without conscience is a dangerous contradiction

August 27, 2021

Brian Bird, an assistant professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia and RFI Research Fellow, recently published an op-ed for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on the importance of protecting freedom of conscience in healthcare.

Last week, the Conservatives, Liberals, and New Democratic Party of Canada all spoke in favor of requiring healthcare workers to provide referrals for medical procedures that they believe to be unethical.

Bird argued against this dangerous view, saying:

Hostility to conscientious health care is fuelled by the flawed belief that health care amounts to whatever a doctor, nurse or other health-care worker is lawfully permitted to do. To be a good health-care worker therefore means that you must be willing to participate in any service that is categorized by the state as health care, regardless of any ethical qualms you might have.

These ideas are dangerous.

“It does not take much reflection,” Bird continues, “to realize why divorcing health care from ethical considerations and reducing it to whatever is authorized by law is a risky path to follow.”

He then cautions against the tendency to turn freedom of conscience in health care into a partisan dispute:

Freedom of conscience in health care is not political activism… The doctor who conscientiously refuses to participate in abortion or euthanasia does so because she considers these acts to be lethal violence against a human being…

Many Canadians say that health-care professionals should not bring conscience to their job. But the truth is, without conscience, their job cannot be done.

Read Bird’s full op-ed: “Health care without conscience is a dangerous contradiction.”