Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 18, 2009
Physicians defend conscience rights
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
OTTAWA — Efforts to protect the most vulnerable members of society are being hampered by a lack of shared moral norms in society, says the head of the U.S. National Catholic Bioethics Centre.
“If we try to protect the most vulnerable in our midst, the unborn, the dying, we are told that we cannot impose our moral beliefs on anyone else,” said John Haas, president of the Philadelphia-based centre.
Haas was one of a roster of speakers at a May 8-10 conference inaugurating the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies (CFCPS) and focusing on threats to conscience rights of physicians.
Haas pointed to one sign of that threat — New York’s former governor had plans to force all hospitals in the state to perform abortions, before a prostitution scandal forced him to resign. His talk was entitled, Conscience: What Is It and How It Works. He showed how the classical understanding of the conscience, as the moral law written on the heart, has been replaced by views that are “fundamentally individualistic, subjective, relativist and based on emotion.”
Society lacks shared moral norms, Haas said, and everyone “presumes to determine morality for himself or herself.”
He urged the recovery of the classical understanding of conscience to protect the vulnerable, because otherwise the views of the powerful will prevail against them.
Conscience formed “by reality itself, by community, by God and his revelation, and by one’s own individual perceptions and decisions” is a guarantor of human freedom, he said.
“Conscience is such a radical guarantor of freedom that one would die before relinquishing it, as St. Thomas More and others have shown us.”
Haas pointed out that conscience is grounded in reality and the God-created moral order. Many of the euphemisms around abortion, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia show a denial of reality.
“In Germany, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis is against the law because the reality of it is seen for what it is — a type of eugenics.”
He noted the most hated job in fertility clinics is the disposal of “excess” embryos. Why are technicians uneasy about destroying them? “Because in their hearts they know the reality with which they are working.”
Coinciding with the conference was CFCPS’s first annual general meeting.
The organization aims to promote the teachings of the magisterium; contribute to the public policy debate; and support and foster the development of new Catholic physician associations and guilds.