The opponents of Senate Bill 303 may not realize it, but they are promoting the very thing they claim to oppose: elevating the patient’s right to determine his own care above the doctor’s conscience will result in doctors who practice medicine without consciences.
The consequences of elevating autonomy above non-maleficence (“first do not harm”) go to the very heart of medical ethics. In fact, the promotion of patient autonomy is the common justification for euthanasia and elective abortion on demand.
The doctor is the one whose hands, conscience, and medical judgment will be writing the orders for or actually carrying out the resuscitation. Just as it’s not ethical to force doctors to cause the death of patients, it’s not ethical to demand that doctors write orders and perform interventions when their medical judgment indicates that the intervention will not be successful and will increase pain and suffering while prolonging the process of death.
As ethicist Gilbert Meilaendar noted at the President’s Bioethics Council Meeting in September 12, 2008,
[T]he reason for a physician being willing to risk his life in an epidemic was precisely that he didn’t think staying alive was the most important thing, that there was something else that was morally more compelling and obligatory even than preserving his existence. And that would have something to do with the personal integrity that you seem willing to think may be — one should be willing to set aside in embracing what one thinks is evil.