'Regulars' on this blog will know that I have been railing time and again against a nebulous concept going under the guise of 'conscientious objection' in medicine. It gives doctors a license to pick and choose the types of medical services that they wish to provide, and, indeed, to whom they provide them. The 'rationale' for this sort of unprofessional conduct has always been that we should respect doctors and nurses who might be unable to provide abortions (or assist in the provision of abortions, respectively) when they believe abortion is akin to murder, as many monotheistic ideologies want to us to believe. Well, a LOT is wrong with this 'concept'. For starters there doesn't seem to be any test at all as to the truth of the conscientious objection. It seems sufficient to feel strongly enough about something (or someone) or other for a doctor or nurse to be excused. What would prevent a doctor belonging to the KKK to refuse to provide health services to black patients? Nothing much, as long as their belief is strong enough (and, as anyone will know who has had the doubtful pleasure of having to face racists, their beliefs are certainly strong). The result of legal provisions permitting 'conscientious objections' is that, for instance in South Africa women are unable to execute their legal right to have abortions in public sector hospitals because too many doctors and nurses (usually driven by strong fantasies to do with 'God') waive their hands (or slap the patient) and declare a conscientious objection. Backroom abortions remain common place, and human lives (real human lives, as opposed to cell accumulations called 'persons' by the Roman Catholic Church) are lost due to conscientious objections by medical 'professionals' who are more concerned about their private beliefs than about their professional service delivery during working hours.
The UK doctors' statutory body, the General Medical Council proposes that in future doctors should be entitled to refuse to provide any kind of professional service if their consciences tell them to do so. In a remarkable twist, the UK doctors' trade union, the British Medical Association (BMA) thinks that that goes too far, and that there must be strict limitations on the types of conscientious objections doctors are entitled to. It goes without saying that 'God' features again prominently, and abortion is the prime target. It goes also without saying that this is utterly arbitrarily a line that is drawn in the sand there. Why abortion and not PAS or IVF for lesbians? Your guess (or 'God' or 'culture') is as good as mine.
But then, in the UK today, like in the USA, religions are ever more pervasively infiltrating public life. The government is setting up ever more faith based schools to ensure an ever growing compartmentalization of, and segregation within society. If the GMC gets its way, us patients will soon need to know which religious beliefs a particular doctor or nurse subscribes to in order to ascertain which types of professional misconduct he or she is likely to get away with by means of reference (hands raised to the sky) 'conscientious objection'... - Seeing that there is no truth to the matter of religious beliefs, little should prevent a medical professional from setting up her own religion if her particular dislike of certain medical services isn't already covered by existing religious balderdash. After all, the numbers (in terms of other believers) are no indication of the truth of a religion, so a one-person religion should also work nicely. I wonder whether it soon will be OK in the country for taxi driver belonging to religion XYZ to refuse to take certain passengers to certain locations as they disapprove of such locations.
One can only hope that the GMC comes to its senses sooner rather than later.