My interest was piqued yesterday by a Twitter exchange between bioethicist Leslie Cannold and sceptic, Ken Dally (aka Cowcakes).
Leslie Cannold: Vic Doctors who will let u or a woman u love die rather than follow law & offer life-saving abortion http://t.co/9NeIqfrl
Cowcakes: @LeslieCannold: So many declarations of not being religious it makes one think they protest too much. http://t.co/YFkP0bRV
The website they refer to is Liberty of Conscience in Medicine – A Declaration; effectively a petition asserting the right of doctors to refuse to offer certain treatments (e.g. abortion, euthanasia) even if they are legal.
Now, I’m happy to concede there are compelling arguments both for and against this proposition (do you really want a rabidly anti-abortion doctor performing your abortion?), but this is not the issue that particularly concerns me about the Liberty of Conscience in Medicine declaration.
Rather, it is the matter alluded to in Ken Dally’s tweet:
“So many declarations of not being religious it makes one think they protest too much.”
I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on the anti-euthanasia lobby lately and I’ve been surprised to find that many organisations that declare themselves to be ‘secular’ or ‘non religious’ are clearly ‘playing possum’. It seems to me a rather ‘un-Christian’ thing to do, really.
Take the Discovery Institute, for example. Although it often describes itself as a secular organization, its activities, sponsors and target audience are explicitly Christian. Americans United for Separation of Church and State believes, “the group’s real purpose is to undercut church-state separation and turn public schools into religious indoctrination centers.”
The judge in the 2005 “Dover Trial”, agreed, noting that a close examination of the Discovery Institute’s infamous “Wedge Document” revealed the Institute’s religious (as opposed to scientific) goals.
So, I wondered, could the Liberty of Conscience declaration be another of these religious ‘sleeper’ organisations? I decided to find out.
The FAQ section of the Liberty in Conscience website specifically states that the declaration is not connected with religion or religious beliefs:
“There is no religious or faith component to the declaration of conscience in medicine.”
The ‘sponsoring organisation’ , Medicine with Morality is “also not religious”.
So who is behind this secular push for doctors to be able to refuse those treatments which are so often the concern of the religiously motivated? The FAQ’s provide the answer:
“Lachlan Dunjey, a GP in Perth Western Australia since 1968, known to be passionate about such things – passionate about medicine, passionate about the future of medicine and wanting to protect the “traditional” doctor/patient relationship from the things that are threatening it.”
Strangely, it doesn’t mention that Lachlan Dunjey was Western Australia’s Christian Democratic Party candidate for the senate in 2004, along with co-signatory Dr Norman Gage. At a safe distance from his ‘secular’ websites, Dunjey describes himself as ‘a church musician of 40+ years, as a doctor, and as a church elder’ and signs off as: Lachlan Dunjey, Morley Baptist Church, West Australia. In fact, Dr Dunjey is not just an ordinary Baptist church-goer, he is a former president of the Baptist Churches of Western Australia. But, of course, in his capacity as an anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia campaigner, he is entirely non-religious!
My suspicions aroused, I wondered whether, as implied in the FAQs, the doctors who signed off on Dunjey’s ‘secular’ declaration were similarly ‘non-religious’. With a few hours to spare I decided to do some judicious googling of the signatories.
It didn’t take long to find that signatory, Dr Michael Shanahan has served as both president and secretary of the Catholic Doctors Association of Western Australia. Similarly, Dr Terrence Kent is a former president of the Catholic Medical Guild of St Luke and Dr Elvis Seman appears to be a member.
So what’s this Guild of St Luke all about? Dr Lucia Migliore explains:
“As Catholic doctors, we should be foremost inviting Christ into our work, which completely changes the nature of what you are doing.”
Another signatory, Dr Jovina Graham, was involved in planning iWitness, a religious retreat designed to ‘recapture the spirit’ of Catholic World Youth Day. The focus of iWitness was “on enriching the participants’ spiritual lives through a deepened relationship with Our Lord.”
As I kept researching the Catholic connections just kept on coming. Signatory, Dr Mary Walsh, is married to Catholic “knight” and bio-ethicist, Nicholas Tonti Fillipini. Dr Phillip Elias is assistant dean at the Opus Dei affiliated Warrane College at the University of New South Wales, while Dr Albert Matti is involved with the Melkite Catholic Eparchy in South Australia.
Liberty of Conscience supporter, Dr Alan Donoghue lays out his beliefs in The Dominion Post , intoning that the Catholic Church condones neither sex before marriage, nor divorce. And, of course, you must raise your children as Catholics!
Dr Graeme Cumming, who is oft seen commenting on Bill Muehlenberg’s blog, was a Family First candidate for the Queensland seat of Fisher in the 2007 federal election.
“Christians”, says Dr Cumming, “do have and must take up the responsibility (not the “right”) to proclaim God’s law”. Yes, Dr Cumming, but it would be nice if you’d specify when you’re speaking from a religious, rather than a scientific perspective.
Dr Lucas (Luke) McLindon also seems to be a Muehlenberg fan, pointing out in one comment that, “As a committed Catholic, at the end of the day, my loyalties must lie with Scripture first and foremost …” I’m sorry, Dr McLindon, but as a patient I’d rather hope your loyalty was first and foremost to me.
But, if the Liberty of Conscience declaration isn’t quite as ‘secular’ as the FAQs suggest, it is certainly ecumenical. Dr Thalia Shuttleworth is a facilitator at the Sydney Life Church and, apparently, participates in ‘miracle’ healing sessions.(I wonder if that’s covered by Medicare?)
Dr Robert Pollnitz is the chairman of the Lutheran Church of Australia Commission on Social & Bioethcial Questions – not too sure how he would feel about ‘miracles and wonders’.
Dr Rosemary Wong, says her mission as an executive member of the Church of Christ’s Counsel@CrossCulture “is to bring Christ’s healing to the wounded in our families and communities, so that they may become the persons God has created them to be”. Pity if you really just wanted a few stitches.
Dr Graham Toohill, an Anglican from Gippsland, is a ‘vocational deacon’, apparently ‘chosen by God’ for a lifetime of service. Dr Toohill “offers time each week to the parish in pastoral care and outreach.”
Dr Robert Claxton is a Sydney Anglican who worked as a medical missionary in Uganda. He is a board member of African Enterprise a Christian Mission ministry committed to evangelising the cities of Africa (apparently whether they like it or not).
Another signatory with missionary credentials is Dr Richard Shawyer a ‘church planter’ who served as a Bible teaching missionary in Senegal with Worldwide Evangelisation for Christ. Similarly committed to mission work is Dr Rebecca Zachariah who worked with Lutheran Aid to Medicine in Bangladesh.
As my eyes grew dim and the night grew cold, I read that signatory, Dr Jeremy Beckett, is “avidly involved in student ministry with Christian medical and dental students in Perth” and, like Dr Margaret Payne , he works with the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship of Australia. Jeremy’s speciality is the “interface between Christian faith and clinical practice”. His aim; to minister the love of Christ to broken people. Ah yes, the broken – so delightfully vulnerable.
Dr Beckett probably knows Dr Sally Tsang. Also a member of the CMDFA, Dr Tsang runs Hospital Link which helps to “connect you to fellow believers for refreshing fellowship and prayer right where the mission field (and stress) is!” I wonder how many patients at Dr Tsang’s hospital realise they’ve been admitted to a ‘mission field’?
Another CMDFA signatory is Dr Natasha Yates. In her student days, Dr Yates acted as the medical student bible study leader at ANU.
And where was declaration signatory, Dr Tyler Schofield on Sunday, 9 October 2011? I found him asking the congregation of the Alice Springs Baptist Church to turn to their Bibles for a reading from Revelations. Perhaps he should confer with Dr Nell Muirden who’s been involved writing Bible Studies for the Assembly of Confessing Congregations – a group of Uniting Church dissenters. Or maybe a chat with Dr Andrew Bradbeer who I found busily memorising the first chapter of the Book of Genesis.
Dr Bradbeer might find he has a lot in common with Dr Mathew Piercy who has written for Creation Ministries on the subject “Life is a gift from God”. Isn’t this turning out to be a lovely little coterie of like-minded doctors?
And, as the night turned to morning, and my googling fingers continued their work, more and more came to light. Dr Gabriel James aims to “serve God” by facilitating the 40 Days for Life vigil at Westmead Hospital – all welcome providing they “conduct themselves in a Christ-like manner”.
If that all sounds too ‘kumbaya’ for you, try signatory Dr Arthur Hartwig for a little ‘old school’ religion. In the fundamentalist Christian Saltshakers magazine, Dr Hartwig complains that “Sin has been sanitised, euphemised, relativised, trivialised, corporatised, minimised, even decriminalised.” Ah, bring back those good old days when we stoned homosexuals, eh, Dr Hartwig?
Dr. Theresa Ong has a Grad Dip in Christian Counselling. Dr Nathan Grills has written about the ‘faith effect’ in treating HIV/AIDs and …. well, I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.
In all I found nearly 70 of the doctors who signed the Liberty of Conscience declaration had clear links to Christian organisations. Of course, not everyone has their religious credentials plastered on the internet for all to see – I was never going to ‘unmask’ everyone. But, even though it might be argued I didn’t find Christian credentials for nearly half the signatories, I challenge those who have no religious affiliation or belief to step forward and declare themselves. I don’t think I’ll be deafened by the response!
Now, I’m not a Christian. I’m avowedly and publicly an atheist. But, I have a very strong ethical code and an incredible aversion to lying and deception. If an organisation tells me they’re ‘not religious’ I expect when I look at its members I will find a pretty good sprinkling of them who are ‘not religious’. I would also expect that religious dogma is not the driving force and influence underpinning the mission (pun intended) of the group in question.
I may not agree with them, but I have no objection to Christians stating their arguments in the public square. I do object, however, when their religious bias is not declared. No politician is going to spend the hours I spent last night googling the credentials of these doctors on a site which explicitly states it has ‘no religious or faith component’. And politicians should know whether the views being put to them are coloured by a hidden religious agenda.
The water of the Liberty of Conscience in Medicine declaration is so muddied with religious belief you could walk on it. And, it seems, there is such an intermingling of these avowedly Christian and avowedly secular ‘pro-life’ and lobbying organisations they even get muddled themselves! Take this telling exchange from the Review of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 [document file]:
Dr Chris FRENCH — Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to address you regarding our concerns. We have Doctors in Conscience here but the actual proposal was from the Catholic Doctors Association of Victoria, so I will speak on behalf of Catholic Doctors Association of Victoria in this submission. That was Eamonn’s original proposal.
… The Catholic Doctors Association of Victoria gives its total and complete support for the measures to strengthen and clarify human rights. This is a major purpose of this association, linked as it is with a long tradition of preferential care for the disadvantaged of Catholic‑inspired organisations. The association and I personally give full and total support to the sentiments expressed in the preamble of the charter.
The CHAIR — Dr French, I do not mean to interrupt you but the committee was of the understanding that you were representing Doctors in Conscience.
Dr FRENCH — Yes, I must say it did occur to me as I was walking in the front door that the address to Eamonn was Doctors in Conscience. I had understood that this was the Catholic Doctors Association of Victoria. Do you have that in front of you?
The CHAIR — The submission we have is from Dr Eamonn Mathieson.
Ms CAMPBELL — Who is speaking to Eamonn Mathieson’s submission?
Dr FRENCH — I was going to speak to Eamonn’s submission. May I to see your copy?
Ms CAMPBELL — Because Doctors in Conscience is definitely not a Catholic organisation.
Dr FRENCH — Yes, indeed. That’s fine — —
Ms CAMPBELL — It has Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and non‑religious people involved in it, and that was who we invited.
Dr FRENCH— Okay. In that case — —
Ms CAMPBELL — So we need someone who can speak on Doctors in Conscience.
Dr FRENCH — I can briefly speak on behalf of them. I am a member of that group and I have been working to this particular document so I am prepared. I can speak on behalf of it.
Ms CAMPBELL — But you are also a member of Catholic doctors of Victoria?
Dr FRENCH — Yes, I am, as it happens. So I can speak on behalf of Doctors in Conscience. I am a member of both organisations and I have actually prepared my proposal based on this document that has been given to you.
The CHAIR — On the submission of Doctors in Conscience?
Dr FRENCH — Yes.
The CHAIR — Okay. And the opening remarks you were making are consistent with the submission of Doctors in Conscience?
Dr FRENCH — Yes.
Oh dear! It’s so hard when you simply can’t remember whether to wear your Catholic camauro or your secular slouch hat when fronting up to these inquiries!
If Christians want to have their voices respected in the public square it’s time to stop these ridiculous games of religious hide ‘n seek. If your views are based on your religious convictions, at least have the honesty and courage to say so. If you can support your religious convictions with reasonable secular argument based on evidence and good science, by all means do so. But, for Christ’s sake (literally) have the decency to make it clear that even if every bit of evidence supported the opposite view, you would still oppose the proposition purely on religious grounds. After all, you wouldn’t want us to think that Christians cynically conceal their dogmatic beliefs in secular clothing and try to pass them off as ‘science’. That wouldn’t be acting in good conscience at all, would it?