[Hippocratic Oath VI]
It takes a lot to make me angry. It takes a lot to motivate me into public dissent. Right now, the threat of abortion being legalised and, even worse, normalised, in Northern Ireland, is that motivation. Which is why I was here today:
“Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. Similarly I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion.”
Where can I even begin?
- The human-ness of the unborn child? The debate has moved on! Pro-abortion campaigners recognise that children in the womb are humans – and, chillingly, they don’t care.
- God’s image displayed in every single human being, from the instant of conception? How do you argue with a culture that denies God?
- The inherent value of human life? Some people are more equal than others, it seems.
- Personhood? The modern notion of person is just a dirty philosophical trick to devalue some persons over others. By some definitions, you’re not a person practically unless you’ve got a university degree and a mortgage.
- The rights of the unborn child? My rights trump your rights.
- The responsibilities of the expectant mother to other people, including her unborn child? But we’re all individuals! This foetus is preventing me from self actualising and attaining the pinnacle of worldly glory!
How can we even rationally debate any more? Doesn’t it just degenerate into two sides shouting opposing slogans in their own separate echo chambers?
But no, surely there must be rational voices and rational listeners left in this debate! And some of those rational voices come from the past, even the deep past.
“Similarly I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion.”
The Hippocratic Oath compares abortion to the intentional poisoning of someone, with the intent of killing them. The administration of a pessary, in this case, was the administration of a noxious substance which causes the womb to contract, expelling the unborn child, with fatal consequences. A physician poisoning a woman to kill her child. Done on a backstreet somewhere, the woman also may have died. And we trumpet this as progress, that now, only the child dies! We are sick, sick people.
I remember one patient who attended an Early Pregnancy Clinic appointment with me when I was working in Obstetrics. She was a young girl, with her mum. She wanted an abortion, but her GP hoped that maybe, just maybe, if she saw the child on the ultrasound scan, she would change her mind. As I scanned her abdomen, and pointed out the baby’s heartbeat, his or her tiny limbs, spine, head.
She looked away the whole time.
They left that clinical room with the intention of pursuing an abortion, and that was the last that I saw of them. I hope to goodness that she changed her mind. What could I have done? What arguments could I have put forth to convince her? What support could I have offered that would have changed her mind? Could I have tricked, cajoled, ranted, pleaded, offered, threatened? But I didn’t. It still haunts me. I pray that she didn’t go ahead with it, and I pray that if she did, then she has sought out Christ for forgiveness and been washed clean.
When does not doing enough make one complicit in a moral wrong? Not as often as not doing anything, which seems to be the go-to position for the vast majority of the Northern Ireland medical profession. Without serious, co-ordinated, vocal opposition to abortion, medics in Northern Ireland will find themselves in the position that I was in above, more and more often. But we have a conscience clause! Whoop-de-doo! Look at the pressure that’s being laid on the docs in the Republic of Ireland – any mention of conscientious objection is being shouted down – docs who object to providing abortion are being pilloried, thanks to ill-informed stirrers (responses here and here). And look again at our precious conscience clause – docs still have to pass on patients to colleagues who do not have these objections. Failure to do so is punishable. Where does complicity start, and where does it end? What are our rights, and what are our responsibilities?
But we fix our eyes on a bigger goal. Without wishing to spoil the next thrilling instalment of our series on the Hippocratic Oath, what is the justification that’s given for not poisoning women in order to murder their unborn children?
“But I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art.”
Purity and holiness, in our personal lives and in our professional lives. Noble aspirations indeed.