NRL News

Stupid arguments against smart doctors

by | May 1, 2015

By Jonathon Van Maren

Editor’s note. Mr. Van Maren is a Canadian pro-lifer. The column that Martin Regg Cohn wrote–and which Van Maren critiques here–discussed the policy adopted by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario which mandates that faced with women who want an abortion, pro-life doctors must provide an “effective referral” to a colleague who will provide the abortion, or to an agency that will arrange for it. Pro-lifers oppose it not only in the context of involvement in abortion but also because they rightly fear they will be obliged to participate in assisted suicide, now that the Supreme Court of Canada has gutted the law against assisted suicide. Quotes from Cohn’s column are in boldface.

Martin Regg Cohn

Martin Regg Cohn

As a fairly active participant in Canada’s ongoing abortion debate, I’m not unfamiliar with the lazy rhetoric of the pro-choice opposition, a laziness borne of years of unrestricted abortion and feelings of ideological superiority. But every once in awhile, I come across a breathtakingly stupid column. Martin Regg Cohn’s column in the Toronto Star a couple weeks ago was one such column.

Occasionally, a columnist works so hard to earn the contempt of his readers that it should be granted. Let’s break it down:

Few patients still think of their doctors as Gods.

Sure, I guess? I wasn’t aware of anyone who thought that their doctors were gods at one point, but don’t let me distract Cohn from constructing his straw man here.

But a few hundred physicians persist in playing the role.

Ah, didn’t take him long. Whenever a journalist mentions God, you can be sure that God is about to be used against Christians in some fashion. Obliviousness is the primary trait of most of these mentions.

The idea that patients deserve unrestricted access to a full range of publicly funded, medically appropriate services has sparked an open revolt among self-proclaimed Christian physicians.

“Open revolt,” course, being that many doctors do not want to aid and abet procedures that are designed to violently end the life of a human being, a service that is never “appropriate.” Even Alan Guttmacher of Planned Parenthood admitted that abortion was never “medically necessary.” Additionally, what is a “self-proclaimed” Christian? I know Cohn is trying to muddy the waters and cast doubt on something, but even his arrogance is incoherent.

“I, and all physicians in Ontario, have the right to practice medicine according to my conscience and free from state compulsion,” Dr. Michelle Korvemaker, a Woodstock doctor from the Christian Medical and Dental Society, asserted at a news conference this week.

It’s an interesting argument from someone working in a publicly funded, provincially regulated facility. And very likely trained in a taxpayer-supported medical school.

Got it. So anyone who works anywhere that receives public funds or is provincially regulated is no longer permitted to practice anything according to his or her conscience, but instead must be subject to state compulsion, the Conscience of the Collective. Additionally, anyone attending a publicly funded institution must think and act precisely how the State asks them to. Why not? Anyone with a consistent and coherent view of human rights is already denied their Charter rights on campuses. Campuses, after all, are a “Charter-free zone.”

Her organization is going to court against a new policy from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) that says any member who refuses to offer a medical procedure on grounds of conscience or religion must refer the patient to another doctor.

Korvemaker’s group has teamed up the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies to launch a court challenge against the college, claiming their Charter rights are being infringed. The idea that physicians should serve their patients faithfully, ahead of their private faith, is apparently a cross they cannot bear.

This entire statement is obtuse. It also misses the entire argument—perhaps intentionally, or perhaps Cohn genuinely misunderstands everything. The debate here is about precisely what serving “patients faithfully” means. For those of us who believe that suctioning the offspring of women out of their uteruses into bloody slurry is not serving them—or anyone else—“faithfully,” the demand of Cohn and his ilk that we help to facilitate this has as much to do with our disdain for barbarism as it does with the Christian conviction that such barbarism is, in fact, immoral. As for “private faith,” we see the moral schizophrenia of Justin Trudeau and his new Liberal Party creeping in here—the idea that we can believe something to be true, but act as if it is not. It’s curious to me that Cohn and his people never realize that it is they, in fact, who are dogmatic.

But after nearly a year of public consultations, which showed overwhelming public support for reform, the CPSO has struck a balance between two seemingly competing rights:

· The dissident doctors claim that that with physician-assisted suicide looming, they might one day be dragooned into euthanasia. Apart from that alarmist scenario, what really rattles them is present-day requests for contraception or abortion.

Dissident doctors? For opposing the idea that doctors should actively kill people or assist in killing them? Canada would be a safer place if we had more such doctors.

· But the public has little patience for doctors who refuse to help patients on religious grounds. The one belief system all Canadians share is that no one should be turned away by a doctor — be it for a shortage of funds or a surfeit of faith.

Clearly that is not the “one belief system all Canadians share,” or we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place. You’ll notice here, as well, that Cohn gets away with referring to abortion as a “faith” issue consistently because he never stops to actually define the procedure or address any of the reasons the doctors might have for opposing it. It is the shoddiest of journalistic practices to completely ignore the arguments of your opponents. …

Yet doctors from the two Christian and Catholic organizations refuse to go along, on the grounds that to refer is to facilitate. When you are playing God, you don’t do the work of the devil — nor do you enable other doctors to do so.

In the worst tradition of doctor knows best, these physicians have their own belief system. Their word is gospel, and they shall not be bound by any earthly governing body.

What babble. Cohn will simply not address any of the actual facts of the case, for example, why doctors would oppose abortion in the first place. …

Cohn goes on for a few more paragraphs in this vein, and then drops this gem:

It’s an odd argument coming from physicians, given that doctors almost never countenance self-referrals on other medical matters. And it’s another example of the dissidents’ penchant for picking and choosing which established procedures they’ll follow when it suits their interests.

Here’s another way to resolve an insoluble debate. Doctors who declare medicine a matter of conscience should tell us whether they disclosed those concerns when first applying to medical school.

Mind-boggling, isn’t it? That people would actually advocate the idea that only those without conscience should be doctors. That those who possess and active conscience and a concern for ethics should reveal this upon deciding to pursue medicine. “Do you know, or have you ever, had moral qualms about a procedure that ends the life of a developing human being and is restricted by every other Western nation on the globe?” “No, sir.” “Very well. You are accepted.” I don’t know where Cohn likes to get his medical treatment, but a doctor with a conscience would seem to be the most desirable route.

Had they done so, as a matter of professional ethics and religious fidelity, they could have been referred directly to divinity school — a place where students are taught early on not to play God.

See what he did there? He now ties in his original straw man with a comment about how doctors want to play God by referencing two concepts he knows nothing about: Professional ethics and religious fidelity.

Reading a column consisting of such asinine arguments in Canada’s largest newspaper reminded me of how the late Christopher Hitchens (an anti-abortion atheist, incidentally) responded to a statement he found particularly absurd. “There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it,” he noted. “You see how far the termites have spread, and how long and well they’ve dined.”

And so they have.

This first appeared at

Categories: Media Bias