EU committee determines doctors refusing to abort pregnancies violate international human rights


9 comments posted
Doctors have rights, too

One might argue that the State forcing doctors to perform elective procedures against their will is just another manifestation of "more and more State power at the expense of due process, liberty and privacy."

Therapeutic abortions are another matter entirely, of course, but I'm not sure to which specific sort of abortion, if any, the advisory panel is referring.

Yagathai's picture
Posted by Yagathai on 23 December 2005 - 3:52pm
Not all that clear

The Hippocratic oath demands that doctors treat the woman's health. If they refuse due to non-scientific religious dogma or magical thinking or because they're afraid the flying spaghetti monster is going to get them, then perhaps they are in the wrong profession.

Medical science is a science, and a woman's health is protected by law and by that oath. To claim that medical professionals licensed by the State can choose willy nilly whether to actually provide healthcare to people based on unreasoned and non-medical notions strikes me as stretching things a bit.

Does this mean that racist doctors can refuse to treat people of a given ethnicity or racial background? After all, if they believe it's immoral to treat people of a different race, then to force them to treat them would also be an oppression of their rights.

I expect a Hindu clerk to sell me a steak. And if the Hindu clerk doesn't want to, well then maybe he shouldn't get a job at a meat market.

media girl's picture
Posted by media girl on 23 December 2005 - 4:01pm
The Hippocratic oath demands
The Hippocratic oath demands that doctors treat the woman's health.

Well, not all doctors take the Hippocratic oath anymore. In any case, while the oath would require them to perform therapeutic abortions, it emphatically does not require them to perform elective abortions. In fact, it wasn't that long ago that many reputable doctors would never consider performing elective cosmetic plastic surgery, because many viewed it as a violation of their oath to do no harm.

I expect a Hindu clerk to sell me a steak. And if the Hindu clerk doesn't want to, well then maybe he shouldn't get a job at a meat market.

Your race-discrimination analogy doesn't hold water, but this one does. While I, too, might be upset if the Hindu clerk refused to sell me a steak (because, God knows I love steak), I don't feel that he should be obligated by law to do so. If he refuses, I'll go find another clerk, or another meat market, or complain to management.

I'd imagine that the Hindu clerk's boss might have something to say about that -- and if the clerk gets fired, I don't think that he should claim his rights were being violated. Failure to do the job for which you were hired is clear grounds for termination -- but it's not clear grounds for legal prosecution. I'm not going to die if I don't get that steak.

Now if the Hindu clerk was a pharmacist, and the steak was heart medication I need to stay alive... well, then you could make a case. But again, in that circumstance we're looking at the difference between therapeutic and elective here.

Yagathai's picture
Posted by Yagathai on 23 December 2005 - 4:36pm

Okay, the Hindu clerk benefits from not being employed in a profession licensed by the State. However doctors are.

What constitutes a "therapeutic abortion," in your view?

When you move on to pharmacists, you're getting into sticky territory. Who's the pharmacist to say what's therapeutic and what's not? The pharmacist is not a doctor. The pharmacist did not go to medical school. The pharmacist has not viewed your chart. Your pharmacist does not even know for what your prescription is intended. It's not the pharmacist's business to practice medicine.

When a doctor orders a prescription for a patient, who's the pharmacist to pass judgment on what is or is not valid medical care? The pharmacist is obligated to follow the doctor's instructions. Otherwise the pharmacist is playing doctor. And the pharmacist is licensed by the State.

media girl's picture
Posted by media girl on 23 December 2005 - 4:59pm
What is a therapeutic

What is a therapeutic abortion? Is this a serious topic of dissent anywhere? It's an abortion performed when the pregnancy would threaten the health of the mother.

I really don't see what having a piece of paper from the government has to do with the issue -- unless you mean the State can use that license, and the withholding thereof, as a means of forcing physicians to do something that they don't want to do. That's pretty fascist, right there. Having a license -- for a car, a gun, a restaurant -- usually means that you can do something, not that you must do something.

And, by and large, I agree with you about how pharmacists shouldn't practice medicine -- there's no need to wax wroth. I mean, it's a more complicated issue than either one of us is allowing for, but by and large you're not wrong.

That being said, if a pharmacist doesn't follow the doctor's instructions -- which we both agree that, ideally, they should -- should they be held criminally liable for what might result? That's a sticky question. If I see a car heading right for you and I don't call out a warning that might have saved your life, am I responsible for your death?

Yagathai's picture
Posted by Yagathai on 23 December 2005 - 5:34pm
Still subjective, and puts an asterisk on the woman's rights
when the pregnancy would threaten the health of the mother.

There can be a lot of dispute there as to what that means. Does the prospect of never being able to have children again count? Does the risk of losing one's job and therefore health insurance, including pre-natal coverage, count? Does losing the ability to support oneself count? Does risk of complications of existing conditions, such as diabetes, count? Does increased risk of impaired health count? If so, how much increased risk? If not, why not?

State licensing is more than just a permit. And having that license does entail obligations. If you believe that your religious convictions require you to drive on the wrong side of the road, the State is entitled to revoke your license and perhaps press charges. Same with doctors or schools or lawyers or accountants....

Re pharmacists, I wasn't waxing wroth, I was laying out why the cynically named "Pharmacists for Life" and their defenders in politics are way out of line.

Your last analogy doesn't hold up. Anyone can see a car accident coming. But a pharmacist isn't necessarily qualified to second-guess a doctor's diagnosis and treatment.

media girl's picture
Posted by media girl on 23 December 2005 - 6:28pm
Yes, no, insufficient data,

Yes, no, insufficient data, yes, sometimes, that is dependent on the opinion of a medical professional and n/a, in that order.

You can lose your license for driving the wrong way down a one-way street, but you can't lose one for never driving down that street at all. That's the difference.

A pharmacist isn't necesarily qualified to second-guess a doctor, but sometimes they can. A pharmacist is trained to notice dangerous drug interactions, for example, and can get in a lot of legal hot water if they give somebody, I don't know, Viagra and digitalis tablets at the same time.

I'm not saying that Pharmacists for Life are right. I'm just saying that your blanket statement isn't as blanket as you may think it is.

Yagathai's picture
Posted by Yagathai on 23 December 2005 - 6:45pm
Educate yourself

merely being pregnant is risky, and there are many factors that can harm the mother, the child or cause long-term detrimental health problems to the woman. Take a look at a long LIST OF RISKS (note, sadly, that the first several listed concentrate on the risks to the fetus, THEN come the long list of problems for the mother. Fucked up country we live in). GO ... TAKE ... A ... LOOK.

Bringing a child to term is dangerous. Yes, women have done it for centuries, and for centuries some of them have died for trying. Isn't this a line, a choice, that THEY have to make, a chance to determine their own destinies?

How would YOU like to be forced to continue to do something that involved so many risks that you didn't want, or were ill-equipped, to take? Where do you draw the line at "therapeutic"? How about if she has other children to feed at home and no job?

So easy to toss around words like "elective". Such contempt for the hard choices people make in their lives. Such short shrift for the various factors that bring a woman to this crossroads.

Men like you should be fucking ashamed of yourselves, so full of righteous and dismissive judgements over OTHER people's lives.

Fuck you.

Madman in the Marketplace's picture
Posted by Madman in the M... on 23 December 2005 - 6:58pm
One also might argue

that your comment stems from an imperfect understanding of the network's conclusions. Nowhere does the cited article state that any practitioner should be forced to perform any abortion, elective or not. It recommends that a woman should not be denied safe and legal abortion because of a deliberate individual action or state-sanctioned policy that refuses her that access.

The EU network is saying that if a doctor refuses to provide a woman with an abortion, that doctor should be obligated to refer her to another physician who can provide it -- and further, that the state should ensure that that all-important second physician is available to her.

A doctor who has never performed abortion is obviously incompetent to perform the procedure, whether elective or therapeutic. In fact, given that medically indicated abortion is more often performed later in the pregnancy and is much more likely to be complicated by other factors, it makes even less sense to have inexperienced, unskilled and possibly hostile antiabortion physicians performing those procedures than the usually earlier and much less complicated elective procedures. Other than that, whether the report specifies a particular class of abortion is irrelevant to its import.

This report attempts to deprive no physician of personal autonomy, but to prevent physicians from depriving women of their own. It supplies a remedy for the deleterious effects upon women's health and lives that result from an unholy alliance between organized religion and health care. The United Nations Human Rights Committee recently issued a similar ruling. And it's about time.

moiv's picture
Posted by moiv on 23 December 2005 - 7:43pm