Bioethics News

The challenge of conscientious objection

Arrival of Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944   

Whether doctors who have a conscientious objection to abortion or euthanasia have an obligation to refer patients to a more cooperative doctor is a hotly debated topic in Canada and the US.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, for instance,  strongly supports “effective referral” for euthanasia. This approach is unacceptable to conscientious objectors because they believe that it makes them complicit in homicide and suicide.

Often those opposed to the notion of conscientious objection give the impression that they feel that refusing to refer is absurd, because a doctor will have no direct involvement in the action.

However, the trial of a 95-year-old former paramedic at Auschwitz makes the position of conscientious objectors a bit more credible.

SS soldier Hubert Z. (his surname is being withheld because of Germany’s privacy laws), was employed at Auschwitz from October 1943 to January 1944 and worked as a paramedic there for one month, from August 15 to September 14, 1944.

During that month, 14 trains of Jews from all over Europe, including the teenage diarist Anne Frank, were sent to the gas chambers. Mr Z. did not participate in the killings. However, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, “the prosecution’s office holds that he was aware of the camp’s function as a facility for mass murder. By joining its organisational structure, he consciously participated and even accelerated the deaths of thousands of people.” He is being charged with complicity in 3,681 deaths.

Last July 94-year-old Oscar Groening, who was dubbed “the bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, was convicted and sentenced to four years in jail, even though he had no direct involvement in the deaths of the camp’s inmates.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.