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The GMC is threatening to strike off Catholic doctors who refuse to carry out abortions or refer the ‘patient’ on. So why have our bishops remained silent?

The contrast with the US bishops’ fightback on the same issue is very striking

By on Thursday, 31 May 2012

Medical students recite the Hippocratic Oath (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Medical students recite the Hippocratic Oath (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Two apparently very different news items turn out, with a little further investigation, to illuminate one of the issues which will, I suspect, more and more delineate an arena within which Catholics are already coming under powerful secular pressure to lay aside their beliefs. This process has been going on for some years, of course. Sometimes Catholics have withstood these pressures: on other occasions (eg, the capitulation of our own hierarchy to the effective secularisation of the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth — or have I missed something?) they have not.

The two news items which have set me thinking are the appointment of Bishop Samuel Aquila to the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado; the second is a consultation currently being conducted by the British General Medical Council (GMC) on medical ethics. What have these two to do with one another? Well, a little investigation of Archbishop-designate Aquila reveals, as I supposed it might, that he has been taking a prominent part in the opposition to President Obama’s current onslaught against religious liberty: the following is from a recent pastoral letter:

The US Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees health coverage which includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. In addition, almost all health insurers will be forced to include those so-called “services” in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies… I call on every priest and deacon in the Diocese of Fargo to encourage the faithful to join me and the Bishops of the United States in speaking out on this violation of religious freedom and conscience. Every Catholic has the responsibility to promote the dignity of human life and religious freedom. Let us work together to preserve the freedoms our forefathers established in our constitution…

Well, nothing more than you might expect from a bishop the Pope thinks worthy to succeed Archbishop Chaput; no more, too, than many other US bishops are saying. I quote it for my English readers as an example of the kind of thing I hope our own bishops will soon be saying in defence of Catholic doctors who have been told by the GMC, under the heading “personal beliefs and medical practice”, that “You must not unfairly discriminate against patients by allowing your personal views to affect adversely your professional relationship with them or the treatment you provide or arrange”, and that “While we do not impose unnecessary restrictions on doctors, we expect them to be prepared to set aside their personal beliefs where this is necessary in order to provide care in line with the principles in Good Medical Practice.”

The Christian Medical Fellowship comments that it is “most concerned by the suggestion that the GMC expects doctors ‘to be prepared to set aside their personal beliefs where this is necessary to provide care in line with the principles in Good Medical Practice’,” and it insists that “the implication that doctors should either act contrary to deeply-held personal and moral beliefs or face discipline is inappropriate, heavyhanded and displays a lack of respect for doctors as professionals.” They point out that to expect doctors to refer patients to another doctor to carry out a procedure they regard as unethical is to override “a doctor’s lawful right to conscientious objection especially with respect to abortion referrals”:

Many doctors believe that to refer someone for a procedure they believe is unethical is morally equivalent to participating in and condoning that procedure. It would also fall foul of the conscientious objection clause in the 1967 Abortion Act, because to refer is to participate in abortion. Referral is not merely an administrative act.(my emphasis).

Now, the Christian Medical Fellowship is an admirable outfit, tireless in its defence of Christian medical ethics. But it speaks only for itself and for those it can convince by force of argument. Although not a Catholic body, this is not the first time it has defended Catholic ethical teachings. This brings me back to Bishop Aquila, and to that admirable fightback by the US Catholic bishops as a body against President Obama’s attempt to force Catholic medical institutions to behave grossly unethically, in very much the same way the GMC wants to do with British doctors, who it has threatened with being struck off if they refuse to follow its “Guidance” on “personal beliefs and medical practice” — which in the case of Catholic doctors means, in brief, that they must either be prepared to carry out abortions or, if they refuse, to refer the “patient” (in other words, the perfectly healthy but pregnant woman) to another doctor who is prepared to kill the child she is carrying.

This GMC document is still at the consultation stage, so maybe we shouldn’t expect our bishops to be weighing in with any US-style full-on opposition just yet. But one of them has at least noticed what is going on; Bishop Tom Williams, chairman of the bishops’ conference healthcare reference group, is urging Catholic healthcare professionals to respond to the GMC consultation. “The draft consultation document,” he says, “does not have a balanced or positive appreciation of the value of religion for patients or for the importance of requiring, and hence permitting, doctors to make conscientious ethical decisions. Both religion and conscientious objection seem to be treated as problems to be minimised and circumscribed as much as possible.” I’m not sure that Bishop Williams has fully appreciated the extent of the threat against Catholic doctors: they could, after all, end up being struck off. If the document isn’t radically amended, we will need something considerably stronger than this. Will we get it?

  • Isabel Wood

    Thank you for actually listening! And thank you for not telling me that I am a “not really a Catholic” and evil because I disagree with some teachings. I’ve had to deal with far too much of that around here.

    People on both sides of the argument seem to get confused, but in general I don’t think that anyone thinks that abortion is “good”. Very few women feel great about having one.I just think that it’s important that it is legal, and therefore can be done safely.

    Back to the issue in the article – I am very much for freedom of conscientious objection in principle, but worry about what happens if there aren’t people who are still willing to perform procedures etc? Because this reduces the access to abortion for women in need – which isn’t fair on them.

    Basically, I don’t mind if a nurse or whatever cannot carry out an abortion on religious grounds – but I don’t think she should be able to refuse to refer the patient.

    It’s tricky – I can see why your conscience might say that referring them is still condoning or enabling it in some way – but I think there is a point where the demands of the profession that you have chosen have to balance with your moral principles.

  • JabbaPapa

    These are religious requirements, not just moral principles.

    Also, very many people DO in fact promote abortion as a “good” thing.

  • JabbaPapa

    You claimed a little while ago that you could show proof the Catholic
    Church opposed the excommunication of doctors who perform abortions to
    save the life of the mother.

    No I didn’t — *you* demanded such proof.

    Given your recent behaviour though, I’ll suggest you just push off and look for it yourself.

  • Isabel Wood

    Replying here to your below comment:

    - What aspects are religious requirements? The refusal to refer? What do you think would be a good solution to this problem? I assume you aren’t of the viewpoint that Catholics shouldn’t train to be nurses if they won’t do the job. 

    - I admit that I have never seen anyone promoting abortion itself as “good” (as opposed to ACCESS to abortion, which I do agree with), which is odd considering the wildly liberal communities I frequent. Are you sure you were not misinterpreting their arguments? If not, could you point out an example? 

  • EdinburghEye

    I’m guessing then you have no proof of your assertion: the excommunication for life-saving abortion still stands.

  • Atwomey

    Well I feel completely unenlightened. What do you think I could learn from someone who pretends to see no qualitative difference between a zygote and a sperm? You strike me as an utter fanatic.

  • Parasum

    “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”

    ## The verse quoted is irrelevant. It is talking not about embryology, but about Jeremiah’s vocation & God’s knowledge of him. To use it for a distinctly modern controversy like the present one is to read our own concerns into it. Other verses in the Bible are used in the same way, even though they are not talking about modern astronomy or geography or embryology or whatever the controversy may involve. We can’t read back our knowledge into the Biblical texts, for that falsifies their meaning.

    “The human being with a
    soul made in God’s image comes into being before the foetus is formed.”

    ## If so, it should be possible to defend that position from the POVs of both theology & embryology.

  • Parasum

    ## The verse quoted is irrelevant  =

    ## The verse quoted is irrelevant to embryology.

  • Acleron

    I don’t presume anything. I look at the only evidence you have and find it conflicted and full of hypocrisy.

  • paulsays

    ‘We can never be in a positon to judge God’s actions’??
    Not even using the code of morality he has given us? Are you saying that God acts outside of his own moral law?

  • liulan991

  • JabbaPapa

    The religious rquirement is handily summed up as “Thou shalt not kill”.

    It is one of the Ten Commandments, and failure to act according to that Commandment is a mortal sin leading to an instantaneous loss of Communion with the Church.

    “I won’t kill your baby, but here’s the address of somebody who will” does not constitute obedience of the Commandment. Obedience of God’s central Commandments is a religious requirement.

    As for people promoting abortion as “good”, they tend to congregate in the demi-world of internet discussion forums, rather than being commonly encountered in real society (at least in my experience — though I have encountered a few urbane metrosexuals, in Paris mainly, who were indeed promoting such views).

    Some of them, undoubtedly, promote it as a “good” for the purpose of internet trolling mainly.

  • JabbaPapa

    Have you NOT understood that my opinion of you is so unfavourable that I do not wish to engage in conversation with you ?

    You are willfully negative towards anything and evrything that fails to agree with your fanatical political positions, you deny evidence and claims that are put in front of view on the basis of nothing than your own prejudice, and you do not hesistate to use gross personal insults as methods of argumentation.

    If you want to find out about this annullment of the excommunications, bloody go and find out for your bloody self, instead of childishly expecting that evrything should be spoon-fed to you by others.

    It’s called “Google” — use the bloody thing !!!!

  • JabbaPapa

    This would appear to be indicative of an interpretative bias on your part.

  • Acleron

    You might first try to keep a list of the definitions of the words you use, they seldom mean what you think they do. If I had said that you were incapable of rational debate because you had a speeding conviction (not that I have any idea if you do), then that would be an ad hominem. What I said was that you had demonstrated the inability to understand. You may feel that to be an insult but it is not an ad hominem. But you probably won’t understand the definition either, oh well…

  • Isabel Wood

    I meant internet forums too, so obviously our mileage varies. I will still say that i’ve never heard the viewpoint that killing babies is better than having them.

    I completely understand the issue, but you didn’t answer my question – what solution would you offer? Do you think Catholics should no longer become nurses if that is part of the nurses job description?
    If the NHS offers a certain type of care, is it not their responsibility that this care be available to anyone who seeks it? 

  • tim

    “190,000′ is a (marginal) ‘misunderestimate’.  Those figures are for England and Wales.  This ignores 10,000 or so Scottish abortions.

  • Acleron

    Thou shalt not kill does not equate to go out and kill. You have already shownyour inability to deal with simple logic. 
    This is just another example.

  • tim

    If you cannot see that the bishops DO see that paedophilia is a great evil (however guilty they may be for having failed to prevent it, a point I leave open) then your opinion on anything is really not worth considering.

  • tim

    This is not something that will be decided by voting (ALL is an overstatement, incidentally, but perhaps you meant all of the governments who think as you do – still a majority, I admit). 

    It is important to be clear who are to be considered as human beings, and to get it right.  Others, in the past, have clearly got it wrong.  Examples of wrongly excluded groups – black people (in the USA) – slaves (in ancient Greece, inventors of democracy) – Jews (Nazi Germany) – surrendering prisoners of war (Imperial Japan) – women (countries too numerous to mention).   These errors have been put right (relatively recently) – unborn children however remain. If in doubt as to whether to grant human rights, shouldn’t one err on the side of caution? 

  • EdinburghEye

     you deny evidence and claims that are put in front of view,

    That makes twice I’ve asked for evidence, and twice you’ve declined to provide it.

  • tim

    No.  The argument is not whether a foetus is a person, but whether he or she is a human being.  ‘Personhood’ is always arguable – you have set two conditions that are not necessarily essential –  is someone asleep a ‘person’? 

  • EdinburghEye

    Well I feel completely unenlightened.

    Perhaps: but you are much better informed.

    What do you think I could learn from someone who pretends to see no qualitative difference between a zygote and a sperm?

    Whereas you pretend to see no qualitative difference between a zygote and a baby?

    You strike me as an utter fanatic.

    Abuse: the last resort of the losing side.

  • tim

    I think we can point out inconsistencies – and indeed it is helpful to do so.  It can draw attention to misunderstandings (whether our own or those of others) as well as to matters which need further investigation.  It is a misunderstanding to think that all of God’s laws apply to Him in the same way as to us.  I think you were doing this earlier, when you argued that miscarriages (‘acts of God’) were equivalent to abortions (acts of men).  Of course, there is a very reasonable argument that a good God wouldn’t allow any evil to happen, therefore a good God doesn’t exist – believers reject this on other grounds.  

  • JabbaPapa



  • JabbaPapa

    You clearly do not understand rhetorics.

    Your notion that the above post does not contain an ad hominem is laughable !!!

    Your definition of what constitutes ad hominem is also grossly incorrect — you imagine that one particular type of ad hominem defines the nature of all ad hominems. Nope.

    Oh, and thanks again for avoiding my question by hiding behind a farrago of verbal confetti.

  • JabbaPapa

    You’re obviously also self-evidently quite hopeless at literary analysis.

    What on EARTH did they teach you in your youth ?

  • Acleron

    No, the argument is whether a foetus is a person. That a cell, or a group of cells can be identified as human is beyond doubt.

  • Acleron

    As usual, you just repeat your error and think that is a good debating point. Take the hint, it doesn’t work. Ad hominem is clearly defined for most people, that you don’t understand this definition as you have failed to understand category error, facts, evidence or even general logic is not exactly surprising.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

     Far more people are killed in abortion than were in the Shoah.

  • JabbaPapa

    The solution is clearly to stop trying to force people into acting against the requirements of their religious faith.

    Any such attempt will end up being unsuccessful, as contrary to both basic human rights and European Law — so why even bother to make the attempt in the first place ?

    Atheistic utopianism might be one motivation to make such an attempt, but it’s certainly not one that I could ever possibly agree with, no matter how often Dawkins and co seek to promote it !!

    A tolerant society isn’t one that seeks to redefine everything disagreeing with the principles of atheism as being forbidden.

  • Isabel Wood

    So are saying that… everyone should have the right to do refuse to do things they disagree with on moral principles – even if it is technically part of their job, yes?

    On principle I don’t have a problem with this. But what would happen if so many nurses started refusing to take part that it became difficult for women to access abortions? 

  • JabbaPapa

    Yeah right, as if pointedly refusing to answer a simple question constituted “debating” on your part. (…)

    You haven’t even TRIED to construct any kind of meaningful position, instead providing a disconnected bunch of fashionable soundbytes, as if any old collection of statements constituted a reasoned and coherent argument.

    Your analytical skills are weak, your understanding of rhetorics is very poor, and your knowledge of the various different figures of speech and various discursive fallacies is not only scanty, but it is based on some clearly inaccurate principles that can only be due either to poor schooling, or non-existent schooling, supplemented by visits to Wikipedia, where you are duly misinformed by the amateur encyclopaedists who write their material.

    Which is entertaining to observe in action, up to a point, though your blind insistence that this lack of knowledge on your part constitutes some sort of intellectual standards to be upheld by one and all is gob-smacking !!!

  • EdinburghEye

     No, no, this is a genuine question.

    No, evidently not, since you opted not to read either of my answers.

  • JabbaPapa

    Oh — and to see someone describing abortion as a “good”, see usual suspect JohnByrne24 below, and in this other thread HERE :

    JB24, the guy who calls himself “catholic” whilst simultaneously using every stroke of his keyboard to deny the teachings of the Faith.

  • Acleron

    You usual misconceptions and inaccuracies. The argument is about freedom of choice and has nothing to do with atheists.

  • Acleron

    Still arguing by insult. And still using those big words you don’t understand.

  • theroadmaster

    “Bad” laws such as the Abortion act of 1967, although passed by a democratic parliament, can never be rationalized as good by any right-thinking person, and thus there will always be people who will stand against it as their consciences will demand. St Thomas More realized as much, when he resisted the pressure laid on him to approve King Henry V111′s usurpation of the leadership of the church in England and break with Rome.

  • JabbaPapa

    I’m talking about *religious* requirements, not moral principles.

    Religious freedom is a fundamental human right — “moral freedom” OTOH is a destructive notion by nature.

    Religion is NOT a purely personal affair, it never has been, and the attempts by secularists to depict it as such are based on a lie.

    Religious values and requirements are collective in nature, not personal.

    ALL catholics, apart from such blatant heretics as JB24, are taught that abortion is contrary to Catholicism and to divine law. That is the teaching of the Church, and the requirement that Catholics are meant to obey.

    These are not personal moral whims, these sorts of religious requirements are matters that are central to the very Faith itself, and to disobey those requirements is to place oneself out of Communion with the Holy Church.

  • JabbaPapa

    You’re a joke.

  • EdinburghEye

     Yes: you claimed that the bishops who excommunicated doctors for perfoming life-saving abortions had been rebuked for doing so, but declined to provide any evidence supporting your claim.

  • EdinburghEye

    The Church’s position on abortion stems from the simple principle that the deliberate taking of a human life is wrong.

    But the Church excommunicates doctors for perfoming abortions to save life. So it appears the Church’s position is that two lives lost are better than one saved via abortion.

    Only by pretending that the pregnant woman is not a human life can this absolute ban on abortion be justified.

    Contraception is a separate issue, but I would merely point out that,
    when contraception was much less readily available, abortions (legal or
    otherwise) were far fewer than today.

    Well, it depends where you pick your data point.

    Before antibiotics, abortion was very unsafe – as it is often today where prolifers have made abortion illegal. Prolife regimes ensure that poorer women cannot afford to buy safety when they have an illegal abortion. Only prochoice ethos cares for the safety of all women. Where abortion was known to be unsafe, infanticide was far more common, whether quick or slow – all cultures until abortion became safe had some means by which babies born to poor women could be licitly abandoned to die. (Read up on the history of American “orphanages” in the 19th century.)

    Once contraception became reliable and abortion became safe – after the discovery of antibiotics, the Pill, and latex condoms – it’s been an absolutely straightforward choice: where contraception is readily available and people are strongly encouraged to make use of contraception unless they intend to engender a child, abortion rates go way, way down.

    Making abortion illegal does not affect the abortion rate. The countries with the lowest abortion rates in the world, Germany and the Netherlands, have legal and readily available abortion – they also strongly encourage contraception as part of comprehensive sex education at all schools.

  • EdinburghEye

     First, the Church accepts medical treatments that indirectly result in
    the death of an unborn child if they are necessary to save the mother’s

    You have yet to prove that, and all the evidence is against you.

    Second, there is no causation, and not even a correlation, between more contraception and less abortions.

    False. Societies where contraception is readily available and hetero couples are encouraged to use it, invariably have lower abortion rates.

    You can see this even state-by-state in the US: in states where contraception is discouraged and children are taught only ignorance-based abstinence-only sex-ed, abortion and STD rates are much, much higher.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    > You have yet to prove that, and all the evidence is against you.

    au contraire! The burden of proof is on the accuser. And the principle of double-effect is well-known Catholic teaching, Google it yourself.

    > “False. Societies where contraception is readily available and hetero
    couples are encouraged to use it, invariably have lower abortion rates.”

    What is the source for that? Did the source bother to count all types of abortion? Did they count the abortifacent “morning-after” pill as “contraception”? And other details. You know very well that statistics can trivially be distorted by people with an agenda.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    > “Yes: you claimed that the bishops who excommunicated doctors for
    perfoming life-saving abortions had been rebuked for doing so”

    Oh please. You don’t know if the girl’s life was threatened or not, you
    are judging a person based on what superficial information you got from
    the media. Shameful. And you know very well how the media reacted to the
    case. There is plenty evidence for that right in your face.

  • paulsays

    However, allow is very much the wrong word. 

    If you saw someone drowning in a river, and they drowned – you could not be held responsible for their death.

    However if you saw someone drowning hanging onto a life-ring which you designed – that then broke because of a poor design – you could be taken to court for manslaughter.

    God is worse than a less-than-diligent designer of life-rings, in that rather than simply not designing without enough rigor, he  (if he is omnipotent) is designing with the knowledge that his designs will kill.

    The design I am talking about is the design of the female body – which he knew would lead to billions of terminations of conceptions. 

  • Isabel Wood

    Sorry, I don’t understand what you think I am disagreeing with you about. I can accept that certain behaviour is required by religious membership, I’m not disagreeing with that.

    Again, what I want to know is what solution you, or anyone else would suggest. What do you think Catholics and the people who employ people to do the registrar/nursing jobs etc should do to reduce this problem?

  • Isabel Wood

    I read that person’s comments on that thread. The same person who posted:
     “Nobody is pro-abortion, as such, and for its own sake, as, for example some may be pro-abolition of alcohol, and some against it – but it is simply the case that often abortion is the optimum morally good action to take. The real world is not black and white. The real world is complex and always shifting and changing.”They are saying that sometimes it might be a positive action, eg when the mother is in danger, in fact they confirm what I told you – nobody thinks that all children should be aborted. 

  • EdinburghEye

     Apparently, every other Catholic in this discussion disagrees with you apart from JByrne.

    And yet you haven’t bothered to argue with any of them when they claim that the Catholic Church doesn’t permit abortions ever even if the woman will die.

    And you can’t link me to any evidence supporting your assertion.

    So, the balance of probability is, you’re making this up to troll me.

  • EdinburghEye

     Did they count the abortifacent “morning-after” pill as “contraception”

    Hm. So now having sex with the certainty that a woman won’t conceive because she hasn’t ovulated (how the “morning after” pill works, when it does, is by preventing ovulation) is “abortifacient”.