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Residency Programs and Right of Conscience

When examining OB/GYN residency programs, one often reads the following disclaimer: for reasons of moral or ethical objection, one may opt out of abortion training. But medical residents who do not provide abortions themselves are still expected to counsel patients, make referrals, and manage post-abortal complications.

Is this demand for an abortion referral legal or ethical? The answer isn’t always as cut and dry as you might think.

However, one thing is certain, when applying for residency, you should have this discussion with your residency program director during the interview process. This will ensure everyone is crystal clear on their expectations and prevent problems down the road.

A good residency program will accommodate your conscience as a physician.

Dr. McCurdy of UC Davis wrote in the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medicine 2011 publication:

“To not allow the physician to act according to conscience upends the relationship with the patient. In effect, the patient becomes the physician, deciding on what care is appropriate, and the physician merely provides the necessary technical expertise. This is contrary to our historical values and endangers the patient, our profession, and society. The last century provides many examples of societies in which physicians were no more than technicians; this history should give us pause before embracing such a paradigm.”

The right to refuse an abortion referral is a conscience issue. Recently Dr. Toffler of Oregon Health Science University spoke about his experience when he stopped making abortion referrals. He said, “As physicians, we are not vending machines to dispense upon request. We took an oath to do no harm and to care for both patients, the mother and her preborn child.”

To watch Dr. Toffler’s lecture on the right of conscience click here —
[26 Apr 13,