Should Canadian health-care workers (such as nurses) be able to refuse to work with certain patients on the basis of “conscience rights”?
Health care advances are increasingly changing treatment for various conditions. The treatments available sometimes create a moral dilemma for nurses such that they are confronted with a decision to either provide the treatment or compromise their employment or to refuse to give the treatment and compromise their conscious. Canadian nurses are also being faced with matters pertaining to their conscious rights. Protection of conscious laws requires that nurses and other health care providers are not forced to perform procedures or practices which they are unwilling due to their consciousness (Lachman, 196). Some of the most common procedures that trouble the conscience of nurses include contraception, artificial reproduction, mercy killing, abortion, euthanasia, torture and human experimentation. Patients may agree to some of these procedures and require assistance from the nurses hence presenting them with a dilemma. Consequently, Canadian healthcare providers such as nurses should rely on their consciences rights in making decision to avoid detrimental effects to the patients and to save them the burden of guilty conscience.
To start with, conscience is usually formed out of an underlying belief that some procedures are religious, ethically or morally wrong. As such, when nurses are required to perform a procedure which they deem wrong they are asked to compromise on some basic human rights. One of the basic rights that are usually challenged in most of these procedures is the right to worship or the right to believe. For instance, if a Christian nurse is asked to perform an abortion their faith that life starts at conception will basically be confronted. By going ahead and performing the abortion they will be compromising their right to believe which is basic right. It is, therefore, significant for nurses to exercise their right to believe by refusing to perform medical procedures that burden their conscience.
Additionally, consciousness can affect the nurses’ ability to practice certain procedures because it causes stress. This is due to the fact that nurses are likely to give less concentration or provide divided attention when carrying out procedures that trouble their conscious. When a nurse is not fully committed to the work that he/she is doing they are likely to make several mistakes hence worsening the condition of the patient. Conscious stress just like any other form of work-related stress causes burnout to the nurses. As the result, nurses who constantly perform procedures which they regard as wrong based on their religion, moral or ethical standards may start developing burnout which will result in them gaining less satisfaction in work. Given the fact that their type of job requires working with human beings, and sometimes in matters of life and death the stress and burnout caused by guilty consciousness may make them make mistakes that will put patient’s life at risk.
Moreover, most of the procedures that nurses perceive as faulty usually have negative effects, especially to the patients (Cranmer et al. 154). The patients may have autonomy over their health but they are ignorant of certain medical consequences. A nurse or health practitioner has experience and knowledge pertaining to certain procedures which the patient may not know. This implies that a nurse is likely to make a more informed decision as opposed to the patient. For instance, if a patient comes requesting for sterilization because they don’t want to have children their decision is likely to be uninformed. There is a possibility that they ask for that simply because they had a troublesome life as children and are afraid of getting children who also end up having troubles. The nurses, however, are much informed, they know about the medical side effects of the procedure. The nurses also know the negative implications of performing the procedure to the patient’s future health and conscious. In this case, sterilization may be a permanent procedure and in future, a person may wish to reverse the procedure in future and not be able to do so. The decision of the nurse, in this case, is more valid and therefore nurses’ should be able to act as advocates for their patients even if it is against their will.
Furthermore, the doctors right of consciousness usually result in saving people from early death in cases such as physician assisted suicide and abortion. Life is very pressures and not given by any human being and should therefore not be taken away by any human being. In addition, by the nurses practicing their conscience rights, they are often protecting the patient from people who may want to take advantage of their early death. Also, by exercising a conscious right not to perform a procedure that is bound to result in death they are protecting other close family of the patient like children from becoming orphaned. At the end of it, the decision of the nurses is always expected to result in the good of majority of people other. On the other hand, people who bear contrary opinions may say that by a doctor exercising their rights of consciousness they trump over the patient’s request. They may further argue that the patient should be allowed to exercise autonomy over their health and that nurses should respect the diversity of ethnicity and cultures of their patients (Genuis et al; p.5). But then, should a patient’s right of convenience trump over the nurses’ rights of consciousness?
I think the nurses’ right to consciousness is much sacred. James Madison who is one of the founding fathers of medicine said that a physicians’ right of conscience is most sacred of anything else. Hippocrates, the founding father of medicine formed the Hippocratic Oath that was required to be taken by all health practitioners to do the ultimate good of patients. According to the hearings in the House of Representatives, the Hippocratic Oath is nowadays not taken mandatorily by all graduating nursing students. Some institutions demand that the oath is taken but some clauses have been removed from the oath. Yet, these founding fathers were not wrong in providing the nurses and other health practitioners with their rights to conscience.
In conclusion, for the good of both the patient and the health practitioners the Canadian nurses should use their conscious rights in making decisions pertaining to practices and procedures that are disputed. Conscience right is founded on basic rights such as religious rights to believe with which even those of nurses should be protected. Also by exercising their conscience rights, the nurses are protected from developing conscious stress which may result in work burnout thereby compromising their productivity. Nurses are more informed than patient so their decision is likely to be much positive than those of the patient. Lastly, the nurses’ right to conscience should never be trumped over by the patients’ right of convenience. This is because the nurses’ rights of conscience are the most sacred right on earth and should be held with much esteem.
Cranmer, Pam, and Jean Nhemachena. Preparing for Nursing Ethical Practice. , 2013. Print.
Do New Health Law Mandates Threaten Conscience Rights and Access to Care?: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives, One Hundred Twelfth Congress, First Session, November 2, 2011. , 2012. Print.
Genuis, Stephen J., and Chris Lipp. “Ethical Diversity and the Role of Conscience in Clinical Medicine.” International Journal of Family Medicine 2013 (2013): 587541. PMC. Web. 15 Feb. 2017
Lachman, Vicki D. (2014). Conscientious objection in nursing: definition and criteria for acceptance. Medsurg Nursing, 23(3), 196.