I Am A Nurse And My Conscience Rules Officially

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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A new ruling from the Bush administration gives me the power to change the way I work, the way I think, and the way I have delivered care to my patients for over thirty years. None of my peers or health constituents lack moral conviction, but we put our convictions aside to provide the best care possible to our patients. The impact of refusing health care to others because of our own moral convictions:

1. Is a bit late

2. Goes against everything we do as healthcare providers

3. Could endanger those entrusted to our care

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4. Might promote disharmony among healthcare providers

5. Could result in hospital closings on Christmas and Hanukah because of religious views

I doubt that any nurse, physician or mental health professional can step forward to say that they have not been traumatized because they had to deal with issues that were religiously or morally unappealing, but that is what we do out of respect for our patient's needs. Had we not been doing that for years, our healthcare system would tumble. My own list of moral convinctions is extensive.

As a student nurse, I was forced to "discard" an infant born prematurely. My moral senses screamed to me that the newborn should be swaddled, warmed and held until it died. However, that could not happen. It was not protocol, nor were there any procedures in place - we all follow procedures and protocols. We did not have the technology needed to help a premature infant thrive. Looking back, I realize the impact my personal feelings would have had on the mother who gave birth. She accepted what happened because no one shared personal convictions or moral opinions. Male infants at one time were circumcised without anesthetic. Had I told each mother of my own moral conviction about inducing such pain, or walked out of my clinical studies, I would never have graduated from nursing school.

The Bush ruling is centered on abortion, sterilization procedures, and emergency contraception, but it would be easy to take the ruling too far. For my patients: I will continue to make my home health visits on Sunday. I will be there when you need me. I will respect your decisions, and I will live my own life in the hopes that my own decisions regarding health care will also receive the same respect and support. I promise not to take the Bush ruling too far (for my co-workers).

We all now have an "official" right to refuse health services, based on our conscience. I am not sure how that feels after all these years.

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Comments

If we all conducted our jobs, withholding certain services based on our moral convictions, society would be chaotic. The physicians' code says "Do no harm", and that certainly is good advice. We do not want to become like the Nazis: "I was only following orders." But this crime applies only when you are knowingly committing a crime. This certainly can be streched bcause anyone can say that doing a certain thing is a moral crime, in his or her mind. As far as religious holidays, Hanukkah is a bad example because it is a feast day, not a holy day. Jews are allowed to work on feast days. Whether Christians may work on Christmas depends on the denomination. There is really no problem when it comes to religious holidays, such as Yom Kippur, when Jews are not allowed to work. They can be given the day off, and non-Jews can take their place. The reverse is also true for Christian, Muslim, or any other religious holidays.
Kathleen Thank you! Your points are well taken, and I appreciate the differentiations and your insights.