Thursday, December 1, 2011

What Passes For Conscience These Days

Some nurses in New Jersey are garnering attention for the "stand" they are taking, in refusing to assist in abortion procedures at their hospital, because to do so violates their ethical tenets. Their "heroic" stand against abortion has garnered them the support of notorious women's rights foe Representative Chris Smith, who has come out in full support of their actions, because he has an election coming up and it is time to energize his base constituency: the self-appointed moral guardians of New Jersey.

If you've noticed a particular odor wafting through the air as you read, that is the taint of hypocrisy that clings to the air whenever a government official or some member of the community stands up and claims that to have anything to do with sex, the aftermath of sex, or abortion of a fetus goes against their "principles." I put principles in quotes, because in many cases, their moral and ethical system of values is so fraught with contradictory and confounding rules that it makes no sense. Conscience, as such people define it through their words and actions, involves denying others their rights because something those others do upsets them in ways that are usually tangled up more in belief than reality.

So let's examine this "conscience" these people claim is being so offended.

Let's start with the obvious: those who go into the medical profession in any capacity -- not just as physicians -- have a responsibility to help others regardless of circumstance. Medical service is one of the ultimate forms of human duty -- using your skills, talents, and knowledge to promote the health and healing of others. It would make sense that anyone wanting to go into a health career would count empathy and compassion among their personal traits... or hopefully so.

The skills and training required to be a nurse, a doctor, a pharmacist, a paramedic, is not easy, requires dedication, and takes time and money. Those who go into such professions cannot make the decision lightly; they will be asked to make sacrifices, both personally and professionally. It is a serious commitment, and, as such, should not be approached with anything less than serious contemplation.

The knowledge that is imparted to medical professionals is usually comprehensive and complete. There are no surprises or hidden traps awaiting them, save where they have not fully applied themselves to their craft. A doctor, a nurse, a pharmacist... they will know, when their education and licensure is complete, what is expected of them and how to go about carrying out their duties. They will know what procedures must be followed, what actions are required in any situation.

Given all this, for such people to suddenly have an attack of "conscience," shows a complete and total lack of conscience on their part. Having gone through all that is required to become what they are, having spent the time and effort to learn all the necessary skills, having taken oaths, having gone into work/practice, they suddenly have the temerity to claim that they find an important part of their profession objectionable. Yet, all through the process of getting to this point, at no point did they find the very thing they are now complaining about objectionable!

Of course, because they are objecting to participating in abortion, they are held up as paragons of virtue. And yet... if becoming entangled in the process of supporting the medical procedure that is abortion offends their sensibilities, why don't other things? A drunk driver crashes their car and is brought into the emergency room -- why aren't they refusing to help treat them? One would think becoming blind, stinking drunk and endangering their lives and those of others would be considered sinful. How about reviving someone who has attempted suicide by overdosing on pills? Isn't the commission of suicide a sinful act? Wouldn't they be within their right to refuse to pump out the patient's stomach? If you are a pharmacist, and you think it amoral to dispense birth control or the morning after pill, why not refuse to supply obese people with insulin? Didn't they bring about their diabetes because of gluttony? And what of erectile dysfunction medication? Wouldn't a pharmacist be supporting someone's debauchery by filling the prescription? The person might be having premarital sex! There's another thing: if they are so put off by the idea of aborting a fetus because it offends their morals, why aren't they similarly put off delivering the baby of a woman who is not married? Surely, that too is grates against their moral superiority!

When one signs up to serve humanity, questions of morality do not come into play. The police officer, the doctor, the firefighter, the teacher... all are expected to carry out their duty with equal fervor for each and every person in the community. Every person in this nation is guaranteed the right of personal liberty; in essence, they can do as they wish, and as long as they harm no one else and do not attempt to force others to do as they do, that right is inviolate. Every person in this nation is also guaranteed the right of personal belief; shared by others or yours alone, whatever belief system you choose, you have the right to practice such, again with the restriction that you cannot impress it upon others. If what you believe in interferes with your ability to do your job, then it is up to you to either set aside your beliefs while doing your job, or to find a new job. It is not the obligation of the employer or society at large to cater to you.

This situation is another example of the inability of some to grasp the fundamental disconnect between where their personal rights end and where the broader tenets of being a member of human society begin. The events we see in our country and around the world at this time, are evidence of the friction caused by some who put their personal causes, beliefs, and needs ahead of humanity, to the extent that they look down upon the rest of us because we will not simply accede to their view. Whether is it the profiteer, the power broker, the religious fanatic, or the dictator, where one person places themselves above their fellow humans, shirks their human duty, and proclaims their "morality" or judgment  superior, they must prepare for the day when humanity will call them into account for the folly of their self-indulgence. One cannot claim membership in human society, while simultaneously doing everything within their power to place themselves beyond it. Acceptance leads to unity; intolerance leads to extinction.

Note: This post was inspired by the writing of Erin Gloria Ryan of

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