Conscription? … only for a few?

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Since there is, currently, thanks to Dr Kellie Leitch, so much debate about Canadian values I thought I would ask Conservatives what they think about this? The linked story, from the National Post, says that two well known ethicists (Udo Schucklenk of Queens University and Julian Savulescu of Oxford University) have proposed, in articles in a respected journal, that physicians (uniquely) should not have a right to their own conscience when choosing how best to treat and advise their patients. They suggest that doctors need not, themselves, personally, provide services that they regard as being morally unacceptable ~ abortion or assisted dying, for example ~ but they must not be allowed to refuse to refer a patient to a practitioner who will provide the service. The two ethicists go so far as to suggests that people should be tested before entering medical school for such strong, conscientious values and those having them should be “screened out.”

This is, of course, a very popular opinion in some circles and it is equally unpopular in others.

Some conservatives would like to ban abortions again and prevent assisted suicide from ever becoming available. But many on the political left and in the centre hold similar views … it is not a partisan issue.

Those who would agree with Professors Schuklenk and Savulescu tend to come from the “big government knows best” wings of all political parties and movements. They are the ones most likely to want to conscript people into “services” that might well violate the individual’s conscience.

For myself: I oppose the notion of requiring those doctors (and lawyers) who are independent professionals into doing anything that they find unethical. But, I think that if you join an organization ~ a hospital, a law firm, a government agency, a university faculty, an engineering firm, etc ~ then (assuming, as I believe we are entitled to do, that you actually read your contract before signing) you must obey the rules of the organization as they were written when you joined … even if you find them objectionable. I believe that an independent print shop, for bake shop or flower shop owner has a right to refuse work that (s)he finds personally objectionable … unless the city licence that (s)he applied for to run  her little business had a specific “non-discrimination” clause in it. In short, I believe in obeying the rules and laws but I vehemently oppose too many “nanny state” rules and laws that are (often hastily and poorly) drafted just to placate one special interest or another.

I think the debate over abortion, for example was long, and difficult and divisive in Canada, as “great debates” usually are and probably ought to be, and it was finally decided by parliament after considerable prodding by the courts. I expect the debate over and decisions about assisted suicide to be the same. Ditto, of course, for other divisive issues like same sex marriage and so on … divisive but, generally, settled in law even though many good, honest Canadians disagree.

I was thinking, as I was typing, that I would not like to patronize a shop or service that discriminated against people … but then I thought about the fact that I discriminate, every day, in many ways, about the shops and services that I choose. I discriminate for quality, selection, price, customer service and so on and I am, generally, quite unaware of what policies any shop or service might have regarding customers who are not exactly like me. Would the pastry shop where I (only occasionally!) pick up some treats refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding? Would that, if I know about it, make me take my business elsewhere? I really don’t know … I like their baked goods, I like the people who serve me there, I find the price good and location is convenient, is the owner’s view of gay marriage any business of mine? In fact, is it any business of the city’s licensing department?

Now the question is: can or should a local government, a town or city council, or a quasi legal professional body (like a college of physicians and surgeons) have the right to tell you to violate your own moral code or not be allowed to open your shop or enter medical school or practice your profession? Should they, in other words, be allowed to conscript doctors (and shopkeepers) into the “armies” fighting the social justice wars?

2 thoughts on “Conscription? … only for a few?”

  1. Tough issues, indeed. That said, in the past, conscientious objectors to all kinds of laws of the land had a choice, too: obey, accept whatever punishment is meted out if one disobeys, or leave the situation/profession in question. It’s hard to say we must obey the law, and that nobody is above the law, while, on the other hand, say people who find a law objectionable shouldn’t follow it.

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