This post was inspired by Rebecca Hamilton, a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, who blogs at Public Catholic. Check her out. She’s terrific.
It’s National Nurses Week in Canada, a time to celebrate our time-honoured profession, the “caring profession.” I love being an RN but I have concerns about the profession’s misguided, unspoken (and sometimes spoken) tenet to leave personal beliefs at home.
When I was a young nurse, I was told by a nursing supervisor to take a shift on the Labour and Delivery unit in the hospital where I worked. My unit had one too many staff that day and L & D was one short. I refused the assignment because she wanted me to stay with a woman undergoing a therapeutic abortion , monitor her IV medications and assess her progress. I knew that refusing a patient assignment could result in serious disciplinary action, not just from my employer but also from my profession’s regulatory body. A very heated argument ensued between my charge nurse, nursing supervisor and me in a public area with other staff and patients looking on. Fortunately, one of my colleagues offered to go in my place so the matter was resolved, but not without some very sharp words from the supervisor.
When my sixth child was born, I took a break from active nursing but maintained my nursing license. A few years later, when my eighth child started school, I decided it was time to go back to the career I still loved. In order to practice nursing again, I had to take upgrading courses.
One of the required classes was Nursing Ethics. We had a large group of about 53 other nurses. One day in class I brought up the white elephant in the room – freedom of conscience and the right to refuse assisting at therapeutic abortions. The diatribe from my instructor was long and heated but the words I remember most were “leave your religion at home.” She pointed out that taking part in a pro-life event like a march or a vigil could be grounds for disciplinary action. Wow! None of the other nurses backed me up although I know I wasn’t the only one with those concerns. I was just the only one who opened my mouth.
A couple of years ago, a dear friend who is a priest asked me to talk to a practising Catholic L & D nurse who was disturbed by her job requirement of having to assist with therapeutic abortions. By that time I had joined Canadian Nurses For Life, a group that lobbies for freedom of conscience rights for all nurses and helps nurses who are experiencing ethical issues in the workplace. After speaking with the L & D nurse for some time, she was still afraid to leave the unit she had worked on for 25 years. Other areas of nursing were too foreign to her. She was afraid of reprisal if she refused assignments since she was the only breadwinner at home. She stayed where she was, reluctantly, justifying her decision with “but it’s my job.” I never heard from her again but I hope she found the strength to act on her beliefs.
These days, mainly for reasons of maintaining order and harmony at home, I am a nurse in independent practice, with my nursing related business. I am my own boss and I love it. Although I am governed by my profession’s regulatory body, I enjoy a level of freedom that my employed colleagues don’t. I’m free to be who I really am, a pro-life, Catholic nurse.
Pro-life nurses need to keep lobbying our professional body and government to grant freedom of conscience rights. We need to speak up for the most vulnerable members of society, from the pre-born to the aged and everyone in between. Now more than ever, the fight has heated up because of the looming prospect of euthanasia and assisted suicide. It’s not just abortion anymore.
Would I discourage young people from entering the nursing profession? Absolutely not! My daughter has just finished second year nursing. She’s bright, articulate, hopeful, caring, idealistic. She’ll be a terrific nurse. We need nurses like her to join those of us who are already fighting the good fight within our profession. Change comes from within. It’s nurses who have to fight for freedom of conscience rights; no one will do it for us.
Nursing is a great profession. By God’s grace, we do a lot of good. By God’s grace, we make a difference in people’s lives. By God’s grace, we can make the nursing profession even better.