Conscientious Objection, Conscience Rights, And Workplace Discrimination

The tragic cases of Nancy Cruzan and Christine Busalacchi,
young Missouri women who were alleged to be in a “persistent vegetative state,” and starved and dehydrated to death, outraged those of us in Missouri Nurses for Life and we took action.


Besides educating people about severe brain damage, treatment, cases of recovery, and the radical change in medical ethics that could lead to the legalization of euthanasia, we also fought for healthcare providers’ rights against workplace discrimination for refusing to participate in deliberate death decisions. We talked to nurses who were threatened with termination.


Although Missouri had some protections against forced participation in abortion, there were no statutes we could find that protected healthcare providers from forced participation in deliberate death decisions. We were also told by some legislators that our chance of success was almost nil.


Nevertheless, we persisted, and after years of work and enduring legislators watering down our original proposal (which included lethal overdoses and strong penalties),Missouri Revised Statutes, Section 404.872.1 was signed into law in 1992. It states,


No physician, nurse, or other individual who is a health care provider or an employee of a health care facility shall be discharged or otherwise discriminated against in his employment or employment application for refusing to honor a health care decision withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment if such refusal is based upon the individual’s religious beliefs, or sincerely held moral convictions.


Fast Forward to Today
In 2016, we face groups like Compassion & Choices, which have pushed assisted suicide legislation through in some states and are hoping for an eventual sweeping Supreme Court decision making assisted suicide a constitutional right like abortion.


Some European countries, like Belgium and Holland, have virtual euthanasia on demand for even non-terminally ill people of any age. The Supreme Court of Canada has forced assisted suicide on that country and now the

province of Quebec makes lethal injection kits available to any doctor.


Not surprisingly, conscience/workplace rights for healthcare providers are being vigorously fought both in those countries and here in the US.
For example, Compassion & Choices’ Barbara Coombs Lee, one of the architects of Oregon’s assisted suicide law, claims that strong conscience-right protections encourage “workers to exercise their idiosyncratic convictions at the expense of patient care” t the end of life.


Hope on the Horizon?


In May, a hospital in Poland stopped committing abortions after every single doctor signed a pledge refusing to do them.


Now, several hospitals in Santa Barbara and Palm Springs, as well as Providence medical centers, are opting out of California’s new law that decriminalizes assisted suicide.


I believe that if people are given a choice when they are sick, they would naturally prefer a hospital that is committed to care rather than assisted suicide.


Thus, conscientious objection, workplace discrimination/conscience rights laws, and the power of institutions dedicated to ethical healthcare can help turn the tide against decriminalized assisted suicide, or at least save some lives and mitigate some of the damage caused by decriminalized assisted suicide. It may take a long time before killing sick or disabled people is again seen as abhorrent and unethical, but the effort will be worth it.


As I have said before, “NO!” is a powerful and potentially lifesaving word.