A foundational principle in the practice of medicine for centuries has been “Do no harm.” Those words date back to the ancient Greeks, who had enough general revelation (see Romans 1:20) to know human life was to be valued and preserved.
The general principles prescribed in the Hippocratic Oath—which medical doctors have sworn to uphold in some form for 2,500 years—were considered nonnegotiable in the practice of medicine until just a few decades ago, when moral relativism and the sexual revolution made them inconvenient.
The sobering reality, says Dr. Christina Francis, a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the CEO-elect of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG), is that an “existential crisis” in the practice of medicine has emerged, in large part due to the void left by the abandonment of such life-affirming principles.
The original Hippocratic Oath forbade abortion and any act causing death. The closely amended versions used by physicians over the centuries held tightly to those core principles, but such sentiment is nearly nonexistent now in medical schools, says Francis, who has also served as a medical missionary in Africa with World Medical Mission.
Today’s oaths mostly steer clear of mentioning abortion and euthanasia, and in some cases, boldly embrace the language of “reproductive freedom” and assisted suicide.
Speaking at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January, Francis told the thousands gathered on the National Mall: “[Pro-life physicians] have stood for the dignity of our patients for the last 50 years, and we are not going to stop. Because when we took our oaths as physicians to put our patients first and to never intentionally end their lives, we meant it.
“There are those who want us to forget this sacred oath,” Francis told the crowd.
In the aftermath of Roe v. Wade’s overturning last summer, abortion advocates have been in a frenzy to expand abortion access, including building stronger alliances with mainstream medical organizations that hold significant power over the careers of health care professionals.
Increasingly, Francis says, there is substantial pressure to conform or jeopardize one’s livelihood. Especially vulnerable are the aspiring doctors, nurses and pharmacists still in training and subject to the institutions educating them or holding the certifications they are working to attain.
Last July—just days after the Dobbs ruling that upended Roe, the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG), the certifying body for OB-GYN physicians, issued a warning that if any of its credentialed doctors were found to be spreading disinformation or misinformation about abortion or other essential health care services, that physician’s board certification could come under review.
“Of course,” Francis says, “they did not say what constitutes mis- or disinformation or who’s going to be determining that,” but such warnings have their desired chilling effect.
In response, a lawyer representing the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists sent a strongly worded letter asking for clarification on what constitutes misinformation and warning of potential First Amendment free speech violations if the organization acted on its threat.
“No response,” Francis says. “It’s been crickets ever since.”
In 2018, the American Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), the lone accrediting body for U.S. medical schools and residency programs, changed its requirements regarding how medical schools offer abortion training. Previously, students who wanted such training had to proactively “opt-in.” But then ACGME began requiring an opt-out approach, meaning abortion instruction is now considered standard curriculum.
“If a student is pro-life and does not want to participate in that, they have to have the boldness and courage to stand up to their superiors and say, ‘I know this is considered standard curriculum, but I don’t want to participate in it,’” Francis explains.
WHEN TRUTH IS UNWELCOME
Francis says there is irony in the stance of these leading medical organizations that are complaining about mis- and disinformation in health care while they seek to silence pro-life medical practitioners who dare to speak about what Francis calls “evidence-based” information about the dangers of abortion and abortion drugs.
Pro-life doctors like Francis feel conscience-bound to correct misleading and oft-repeated abortion-rights claims. One prominent one, often uttered amid public policy debates, is that abortion is sometimes necessary to save the life of an expectant mother.
“I can unequivocally say that it is never medically necessary to intentionally end the life of a pre-born human being in order to save the life of the mother,” Francis says. “And I can say this not only based on medical evidence and scientific evidence, but I can also say it based on my own expertise working as an OB-GYN for about 15 years now, and the last six and a half of those years working as an OB hospitalist.
“I manage high-risk pregnancies every time I’m on shift at the hospital. So I know exactly what it is to see a woman who is facing a life-threatening complication.”
Francis says several times in her work she has had to inform a pregnant mother of a baby less than 20 weeks along that in order to save the mother’s life, they will need to deliver the baby. In those cases, her aim is to preserve two lives, the pre-born baby and the mother, not to abort the unborn child.
“Even in those situations where we’re pre-viable—where baby can’t survive outside of Mom—I can deliver her an intact child that she can hold and grieve, and in a way that respects not only her dignity and her life but respects the life and dignity of my second patient.”
Francis says that most doctors who are devout in their faith commitments also believe that their patients are created in God’s image.
“What a difference it makes when you realize that patient in front of you is a fellow image bearer.” ©2023 BGEA
Photo: Ty Foster