Panel 3: Theological and Religious Perspectives on Conscience
Royal Irish Academy Symposium
Mary McAleese, MRIA, Professor of Children, Law and Religion, University of Glasgow
Professor Linda Hogan, Trinity College Dublin
Professor David Albert Jones, The Anscombe Bioethics Centre
Professor David Novak, University of Toronto
Religious and theological conceptions of conscience; role of conscientious objection within faith traditions; freedom of religion, freedom within religion. Resistance motivated by faith and conscience: military service, health care.
In December 2020, less than a year after severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 was identified as the cause of the coronavirus pandemic, an extraordinary collaboration between scientists, the pharmaceutical industry, and government led to 2 highly efficacious, safe vaccines being approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection.1,2 Had the US been in its expected role as a global leader in medicine and public health, this would have been a fitting capstone of US commitment to science and how that can change the course of morbidity and mortality related to a frightening new disease.
However, a less flattering story emerged about the inadequate US response to COVID-19. A number of leaders in federal, state, and local government, guided by political exigency and recommendations from a small number of physicians and scientists who ignored or dismissed science, refused to promote sensible, effective policies such as mask wearing and social distancing. This contributed to the US having more infections and deaths than other developed nations in proportion to population size . . .
Among the ways in which science-based public health evidence has been dismissed in the US is the replacement of highly experienced experts advising national leaders with persons who appear to have been chosen because of their willingness to support government officials’ desire to discount the significance of the pandemic. . .
. . . History is a potent reminder of tragic circumstances when physicians damaged the public health, from promoting eugenics to participating in the human experiments that took place in Tuskegee to asserting erroneously that vaccines cause autism. It can be difficult to hold physicians accountable, especially when they are acting in policy roles in which malpractice lawsuits will not succeed. Professional self-regulation serves as the primary vehicle for accountability and is critical if trust in science and medicine is to be maintained.
To that end, action from within the medical profession is an important but underused strategy. . .
Human germline genome editing is increasingly being seen as acceptable provided certain conditions are satisfied. Accordingly, genetic modifications would take place on eggs or sperm (or their precursor cells) as well as very early embryos for the purpose of bringing children into existence with or without particular genetic traits. In this context, a number of already discussed and separate arguments, such as the (1) synecdoche, (2) non-identity (3) inherent equality and (4) expressivist arguments, can be brought together in the new context of examining, from an ethical perspective, some of the possible consequences of such germline genome editing. In so doing, it becomes clear that these novel procedures are incompatible with the concept of equality in value and in worth of all human beings in a genuinely inclusive society. Such equality is expressed in Article 1 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that: ‘All human beings are born … equal in dignity and rights.’
A. Stef Groenewoud, Femke Atsma, Mina Arvin, Gert P. Westert, Theo A. Boer
Background The annual incidence of euthanasia in the Netherlands as a percentage of all deaths rose from 1.9% in 1990 to 4.4% in 2017. Scarce literature on regional patterns calls for more detailed insight into the geographical variation in euthanasia and its possible explanations.
Objectives This paper (1) shows the geographical variation in the incidence of euthanasia over time (2013–2017); (2) identifies the associations with demographic, socioeconomic, preferential and health-related factors; and (3) shows the remaining variation after adjustment and discusses its meaning.
Design, setting and methods This cross-sectional study used national claims data, covering all healthcare claims during 12 months preceding the death of Dutch insured inhabitants who died between 2013 and 2017. From these claims all euthanasia procedures by general practitioners were selected (85% of all euthanasia cases). Rates were calculated and compared at three levels: 90 regions, 388 municipalities and 196 districts in the three largest Dutch cities. Data on possibly associated variables were retrieved from national data sets. Negative binomial regression analysis was performed to identify factors associated with geographical variation in euthanasia.
Results There is considerable variation in euthanasia ratio. Throughout the years (2013–2017) the ratio in the three municipalities with the highest incidence was 25 times higher than in the three municipalities with the lowest incidence. Associated factors are age, church attendance, political orientation, income, self-experienced health and availability of voluntary workers. After adjustment for these characteristics a considerable amount of geographical variation remains (factor score of 7), which calls for further exploration.
Conclusion The Netherlands, with 28 years of legal euthanasia, experiences large-scale unexplained geographical variation in the incidence of euthanasia. Other countries that have legalised physician-assisted dying or are in the process of doing so may encounter similar patterns. The unexplained part of the variation may include the possibility that part of the euthanasia practice may have to be understood in terms of underuse, overuse or misuse.
Sean Murphy, Ramona Coelho, Philippe D. Violette, Ewan C. Goligher, Timothy Lau, Sheila Rutledge Harding, Rene Leiva
Since 1948 the Declaration of Geneva (the Declaration) has insisted that physicians must practise medicine “with conscience and dignity.” In 2017 this provision was modified by adding, “and in accordance with good medical practice” .
Good medical practice in Canada is said to include providing euthanasia and assisted suicide or arranging for someone else to do so. From this perspective, physicians who cannot in conscience kill their patients or collaborate in killing are not acting “in ac-cordance with good medical practice,” and – some might say – the revised Declaration.
However, this merely literal application of the text cannot be correct, since the WMA later reaffirmed its support for physicians who refuse to provide or refer for eutha-nasia and assisted suicide even where they are considered good medical practice . A reading informed by the history of the document is necessary and consistent with the care taken in its revision . This yields a rational and coherent account of the relationship of conscience and dignity to medical practice. Full text
Declaration of Geneva (1948), International Code of Medical Ethics (1949)
Sean Murphy, Ramona Coelho, Philippe D. Violette, Ewan C. Goligher, Timothy Lau, Sheila Rutledge Harding
Practising Medicine “with conscience and dignity”
Beginning with the Declaration of Geneva (the Declaration), for over 70 years the World Medical Association (WMA) has maintained that physicians must practise medicine with conscience and dignity . On the Declaration’s 70th anniversary, seven associate WMA members raised serious concerns about their ability to remain in medical practice if they fulfil this obligation by refusing to support or collaborate in the killing of their patients by euthanasia and assisted suicide (EAS).The physicians practise in Canada, where euthanasia and assisted suicide (EAS) are legal, [3,4] recognized as therapeutic medical services by the national medical association [5,6] and provided through a public health care system controlled by the state, which also regulates medical practice and medical ethics. The national government is now poised to make EAS available for any serious and incurable medical condition, vastly increasing the number of patients legally eligible for the service .
In these circumstances, it is urgent to reassert that the duty to practise medicine “with conscience and dignity” includes unyielding refusal to do what one believes to be wrong even in the face of overwhelming pressure exerted by the state, the medico-legal establishment and even by medical leaders and colleagues. That the founders of the WMA not only supported but expected such principled obstinacy is evident in the WMA’s early history and the development of the Declaration, all of which remain surprisingly relevant . . .
Franck Mauvais-Jarvis, Noel Bairey Merz, Peter J Barnes, Roberta D Brinton, Juan-Jesus Carrero, Dawn L DeMeo, Geert J De Vries,C Neill Epperson, Ramaswamy Govindan, Sabra L Klein, Amedeo Lonardo, Pauline M Maki, Louise D McCullough, Vera Regitz-Zagrosek,Judith G Regensteiner, Joshua B Rubin, Kathryn Sandberg, Ayako Suzuki,
Clinicians can encounter sex and gender disparities in diagnostic and therapeutic responses. These disparities are noted in epidemiology, pathophysiology, clinical manifestations, disease progression, and response to treatment. This Review discusses the fundamental influences of sex and gender as modifiers of the major causes of death and morbidity. We articulate how the genetic, epigenetic, and hormonal influences of biological sex influence physiology and disease, and how the social constructs of gender affect the behaviour of the community, clinicians, and patients in the health-care system and interact with pathobiology. We aim to guide clinicians and researchers to consider sex and gender in their approach to diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases as a necessary and fundamental step towards precision medicine, which will benefit men’s and women’s health.
Mauvais-Jarvis F, Bairey Merz N, Barnes PJ, Brinton RD, Carrero J-J, DeMeo DL, De Vries GJ, Epperson CN, Govindan R, Klein SL, Lonardo A, Maki PM, McCullough LD, Regitz-Zagrosek V, Regensteiner JG, Rubin JB, Sandberg K, Suzuki A. Sex and gender: modifiers of health, disease, and medicine. The Lancet; 2020 Aug 22 396(10250): 565-582. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31561-0