The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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April 20, 2001 Issue
Local News

Testimony addresses conscience protection for health care workers

Ethical issues have become more complex

The Wisconsin Catholic Conference has submitted written testimony to the Assembly Committee on Labor and Workforce Development in support of AB 168, which enhances conscience protection for health care professionals.

Expand rights

The testimony from Kathy Markeland, conference associate director, said the bill would expand the current limited right of conscience for health care workers to take into account "continuing changes in medical technology that present new moral and ethical dilemmas for health care practitioners."

The procedures or practices the bill covers "represent a fairly narrow set of circumstances in which a health care professional could object to participation based upon his or her belief regarding the value of human life," Markeland testified.

"Our tradition calls Catholics to refuse to cooperate in actions that have the effect of destroying or demeaning human life," she said. "This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it."

Moral duty

Each individual is morally responsible for their acts, she said. To refuse to take part in committing an injustice is both a moral duty and a basic human right, she added, that "should be acknowledged and protected by civil law" in accord with Pope John Paul's encyclical, The Gospel of Life.

She noted how the law recognizes the "right of an individual to conscientiously object to engaging in armed conflict ... for deeply held moral convictions ... because doing so may compel the individual to kill or harm other human beings. Moral reservations about medical procedures deserve the same consideration as moral reservations about fighting a war."

Beliefs differ

Already, Markeland said, individuals differ in their beliefs about the "value and meaning of human life at various stages of development. History has shown us that as science and technology continue to advance our understanding of the human person, the ethical issues have only become more complex.

"Health care professionals stand on the front lines addressing these complex issues with a sworn responsibility to uphold the value of life and do no harm," she said. "The health care community is not weakened but instead made stronger by accommodating the differing beliefs of those who genuinely seek to respect and value human life."

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