This conscientious objector case is a little shocking

This conscientious objector case is a little shocking

From the Boston Globe (Army-financed doctor granted objector status)

An anesthesiologist whose medical training was financed by the Army must be discharged from the Army Reserve as a conscientious objector, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

Dr. Mary Hanna, for whom the Army paid approximately $184,000 to attend the Tufts University School of Medicine, had been scheduled to report to active duty Tuesday at Fort Bliss, Texas. Last December, as she neared the end of her residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Hanna notified the Army that her renewed religious beliefs [she is a Coptic Christian] were now incompatible with military service.

I don’t know the woman or the details of her case, but it all sounds a little too convenient.

There’s a long history in the US of conscientious objectors serving as medics or performing alternative civilian service (along with some “absolutists” who refused to serve in any way.) Is it really too much to expect for Dr. Hanna to work in an Army field hospital in Iraq or Afghanistan? How about a military hospital in Germany? Or a VA hospital in Boston? Or a public clinic?

October 9, 2006

8 thoughts on “This conscientious objector case is a little shocking”

  1. Conscience rarely evolves according to plan (at least according to our own plans) and the realization that our consciences can be troubled by things we previously had no reservations about is rarely convenient — except, perhaps, to observers at a distance. There is, as you point out, a long history of conscientious objectors serving in the military as medics. Over the course of that history, many people who at one time felt able to serve in military medicine came to feel that their consciences could, in fact, not permit them to serve in a setting where their role was to make soldiers once again fit to return to battle. In those periods where US law provided for a military draft, the law provided for civilian alternative services for those who were conscientiously opposed to service in any capacity in the military. Since the repeal of military conscription in the US in 1971, there has been no provision for civilian alternative service. The only CO’s today are those who, at some point after enlisting in the military, find themselves no longer able, in good conscience, to continue their participation. The Uniform Code of Military Justice makes very specific provision for adjudicating these cases and, upon a finding of sincerely held religious belief, discharging these individuals. Unfortunately, commanders in the armed services frequently fail to apply the provisions of the UCMJ consistently and lawfully. In those cases, Federal law makes explicit provision for review by the civilian Federal courts. This appears to be one such case, and I believe it behoves those of us who are observing this particular case only at a distance and without the benefit of the full facts reviewed by the court to treat the decision of the court with considerable deference…and to be appropriately modest about our own ability to plumb the consciences of others, especially those whom we do not know.

  2. Many people are comfortable with a category of conscientious objection to firing weapons, but many are uncomfortable with applying conscientious objection rules to practicing medicine. If you contend that practicing medicine in a veterans hospital is being part of a killing machine then you are not far from Ward Churchill’s contention that people working in the World Trade Center were “little Eichmanns”.

    If the rules for conscientious objectors make no distinction between combat and anesthesiology they should be changed. Note that the guidance given to potential conscientious objectors ( suggests a form of government assigned health care job as an example of alternative service to be assigned.

  3. I’m glad to take the doctor at her word that her conscientious objection arose over time. I’d be curious to know, though, if her conscientiousness about the military also extends to her sense of justice over having received a very expensive education at no charge from the military. What portion does her conscience tell her she should pay back?

  4. News reports indicate that she has agreed to pay back the money, but I haven’t seen details as to whether the payback is one that would be considered full. But an education provided by the military is not one that has an explicit buyout option, as there is in MD PhD programs. The idea is that you have committed to perform a certain service.

  5. Oh, I have no problems with her newly discovered objections, but I have one sentence to say to her:

    Fork over the $184,000, baby, that money doesn’t belong to you if your derriere doesn’t belong to Uncle Sam for the agreed upon time.

    Ya broke your contract, honey.

  6. This sudden “attack” of morals is a weak excuse. It is no suprise what the military (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force etc..) do. Fight and win wars. It should be no secret to those involved in medicine what war invovles. Being a “CO” involves cheating the military out of the obligations you willing and knowingly entered into. There is no draft. So what is different between now and 4 or 5 years ago? The war has being going on that long. She has not only cheated the Army out of $$ but is also cheating her patients. Gas docs don’t grow on trees and it is going to take a number of years to grow a new one. This means that her abandoning of her responsibilities has a very direct and negative impact on her patients. In short this is chicken shit selfish act.

    This leaves me to wondering how much her selfishness will transfer into her civillian practice?

    And if she has issues being part of the “war machine” how does she feel about taking care of criminals? You save a criminal they are only going to go back out and continue to be criminals causing harm to law abiding citizens. So does she now have the right to pick and choose which patients she cares for?

  7. I think this whole story is shocking. I’m with Kim. How can she possibly see this as a moral position to take? It may just be the cynic in me talking but I too find her timing a bit…convenient. As an aside, I’d direct readers to this link on my blog about the accomplishments of a REAL CO. I’d also check out the thread that resulted in the comments section.


  8. How can she be a conscientious objector when she obviously doesn’t have a conscience.

    Compare that story to a Tucson surgeon who suspended a lucrative practice to volunteer for service in Iraq. He wanted to save lives and knew it was the right thing to do. Now there is a decent human being.

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