I was recently reminded of a note I once read in an Alberta newspaper in which the writer suggested that exempting a doctor, on the basis of conscience, from a requirement to participate in arranging to take someone’s life could justify requests from firefighters to be allowed to let houses burn because their conscience condemns the lifestyle of those who live in the house. There are at least three things wrong with this suggestion.
The most obvious thing wrong with this suggestion is that there is absolutely no equivalence between the decision to participate in causing someone’s death and the decision to save someone’s life.
The second obviously wrong thing about the writer’s suggestion is that there is no equivalence between an act which an informed conscience dictates is evil in itself in all cases and the much less absolute case of an act which might be virtuous.
The third obvious problem is that the existing dilemma of doctors who don’t wish to participate in causing death cannot reasonably be assessed through the entirely imaginary dilemma of a firefighter wishing for another person’s death.
There are undoubtedly academic philosophers of logic who could enumerate more adroitly than I can the nature of such fallacies. It is clear, however, that we should approach with great caution superficial arguments in favour of eliminating basic democratic freedoms.