Is the right to refuse to participate for conscience reasons always a good thing? It is difficult for me to imagine not having that right – especially in this current moral climate where “freedom” is often the manifest rebellion against the will of God. But as I considered the case of the New Jersey nurses I was reminded of history and personal experience.
In 1933 the Hitler’s Nazi government enacted its legislation for the forcible sterilization of the unfit. The law would go into effect in 1934.
A primary force of objection was the Roman Catholic Church. Its long-standing opposition to artificial forms of birth control was certainly one issue. The Church was also had been expressing concern about the direction of this new Nazi government.
In late 1933 the Catholic Church won a personal victory when the sterilization law was modified to allow for conscientious objection. Conceding to this was a shrewd and effective move by the Nazi regime as the Catholic Church was a formidable adversary within Germany. Once the Catholic Church received the entitlement to conscientiously object the measure proceeded in 1934. It did not take long for forcible sterilization to morph into the termination of the undesirable members of society.
This is not criticism of the Catholic Church. I can only imagine the moral state of affairs of our world without the Church’s influence. But in this instance, entitlement to object allowed the guard to be dropped.
That’s the historical lesson that came to mind. Personally, a few years ago I received a call from an anesthesiologist who was worried he would be forced to participate in a new second-trimester abortion clinic planned for his area. He was convinced changes in health care legislation deprived him of his right to conscientiously object. He later was assured that his right to conscientiously object was intact. Soon, plans for the clinic evaporated for a variety of other reasons and the objector disappeared. He did not become a donor, a leading member of any pro-life group, protestor or political activist. He got his reprieve – issue resolved!
Scripture reminds us to think more of others than we do of ourselves (Philippians 2). I think we absolutely need the right to conscientiously object in our society. But to do so at the peril of those victimized by the offending activity is not right either.
It does prompt me to wonder, however, how different things really might be if we could not conscientiously object. What if we had to assist with abortions? What if we had to administer terminal sedation to the elderly? What if we had to distribute offensive birth control? What if…..?
I imagine some would quit their professional and go into something more benign. Some would just compromise their principles, grumble about it with coworkers, and continue on. But then some, living by the motto of “rather serve God than man,” would say “no!” They would refuse and face the consequences. They would spread news of their objections, march in the streets, get into verbal conflicts with employers, face fines, accept imprisonment and just be a headache – so much so that perhaps, just perhaps, more people would feel directly touched by a moral wrong and society might change.
I commend the Roman Catholic Church for standing strong on many issues politically unpopular but I do wonder what would have happened in Nazi Germany if the Catholic Church did not accept conscientious objection. Something to thing about!