It appears that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and ABOG (the American Board of Obstetricians and Gynecologistsmay be about to abort their efforts to change laws concerning conscientious refusal in Washington. It remains to be seen whether they will deliver on their promise to support — without limits – the Conscientious Refusal to perform or refer for certain procedures. (I’m sorry, I can’t resist obvious puns, even on such a serious subject.)
LifeEthics has been covering the controversy over the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s “Opinion #385, Limits of Conscientious Refusal in Reproductive Medicine,” which states that,
Providers with moral or religious objection should either practice in proximity to individuals who do not share their view or ensure that referral processes are in place. In an emergency in which referral is not possible or might negatively have an impact on a patient’s physical or mental health, providers have an obligation to provide medically indicated and requested care.”
First, “medically indicated” should be up to the physician and not dependent on autonomy – the patient’s wants and wishes. Remember that Joseph Kennedy, the father of John and Robert, had his daughter lobotomized because she was too wild. At that time, according to Joe, the lobotomy was medically indicated.)
Obviously, this is not a moral obligation – but one that can be enforced by the use of the words “standard practice” and “standard reproductive services.” In other words, abort, refer, or face lawsuits and risk your board certification. And the definition of “emergency” varies.
We also reported that the Secretary of Health, Michael O. Leavitt, had written to the Presidents of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the professional organization that supposedly sets the standard for these professionals, and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology which certifies and tests OB/Gyns Presidents of ACOG and ABOG. He informed them that they were in danger of risking their own funding for training programs and status by any attempt to override the protections for Conscience in Federal funding regulations.
Even NPR noticed and covered the controversy.
The leaders at the Christian Medical and Dental Association have let CMDA members know that the President of ACOG, Kenneth L. Noller, MD, responded to the Fellows (certified OB/Gyns) last week and Norman F. Gant, MD, the President of ABOG, responded to Secretary Leavitt by letter on March 19, 2008.
Dr. Gant doesn’t have a clue what the Secretary is talking about:
I am responding to your letter addressed to me asking about the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s stand with respect or to a physician’s choice to violate their conscience by referring patients for abortions or taking other objectionable action, or risk losing their board certification.” I can only say that I do not know where you came up with any suggestion, much less documentation, that the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology has ever asked anyone to violate their own ethical or moral standards.
And Dr. Noller reassures the Fellows that in this case, an Opinion is just an Opinion (and we’re supposed to forget the attempts to change the laws):
We want to be clear the Opinion does not compel any Fellow to perform any procedure he or she finds to be in conflict with his or her conscience and affirms the importance of conscience n shaping ethical professional conduct. For example, while this is not a document focused on abortion, ACOG recognizes that support of or opposition to abortion is a matter of profound moral conviction and ACOG respects the need and responsibility of its members to determine their individual position on this issue based on their personal values and beliefs. We want to assure members with a diversity of views on this issue that they have a place in our organization.
Ethics Committee Opinions provide guidance regarding ethical issues. This Committee Opinion is not part of the “Code of Professional Ethics of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.” This Committee Opinion was not intended to be used as a rule of ethical conduct which could be used to affect an individuals initial or continuing Fellowship in ACOG. Similarly, it is not cited in the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s “Bulletin for 2008,” and “Bulletin for 2008 Maintanence of Certification” and an obstetrician-gynecologist’s board certification is not determined or jeopardized by his or her adherence to this Opinion.
Conscience has an important role in the ethical practice of medicine. While this Opinion attempted to provide guidance for balancing the critical role of conscience with a woman’s right to access reproductive medicine, the Executive Committee has noted the uncertain and mixed interpretation of this Opinion. Thus, the Executive Committee has instructed the Committee on Ethics to hold a special meeting as soon as possible to reevaluate ACOG Committee Opinion #385.