Some Canadians and, I’m guessing, few Americans will be familiar with the case of Bill Whatcott. This is the nurse who distributed flyers to Regina households describing gay men as “predatory,” “filth,” and “pedophiles.” Understandably, some Regina residents were upset, and complained. His anti-gay speech drew the wrath of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, where he was fined $15,000 for promoting hate. Whatcott appealed up through the system, and the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear the case yesterday.
I’m not so much concerned here about the free speech aspects of this case. To my mind, anyway, he certainly has the right to be offensive, no matter how disgusting or grotesque he might be, and I hope the Supreme Court finds in his favour — free speech isn’t just for the people we agree with. The interesting part for me is that Bill Whatcott was an LPN; the Saskatchewan Association of Licensed Practical Nurses stripped his licence because he was circulating hate literature, and also because he was picketing a Planned Parenthood clinic.* (SALPN’s decision was reversed on appeal, on free speech grounds. It doesn’t appear Whatcott ever returned to nursing.)
My question: does being a through-and-through bigot disqualify you from being a nurse? For a few reasons unrelated to the free speech issue, I’m thinking yes.
Providing safe and competent nursing care and building therapeutic relationships requires objectivity on the part of the nurse, trust and empathy. Can you be objective and empathetic if you’re (unjustly) thinking your gay patient is a filthy child predator — Whatcott’s language — and further, is damned to Hell? And can a patient ever trust his nurse in providing care, knowing his nurse effectively despises him and wishes him ill? The ethical principle of justice demands nurses treat all patients equally. It’s difficult for me to see how this is possible if you’re a bigot, even if you think you can compartmentalized your nursing and your bigotry into separate slots. In any case, being a nurse does require a higher ethical and moral standard. Bigots should consider another profession.
Lastly, a thought experiment: if you think a person’s view of homosexuality is strictly her own opinion, and doesn’t affect the provision of nursing care, what if the nurse was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and distributing literature on miscegenation? Is this, in practical terms, any different from what Bill Whatcott did?
*SALPN’s website doesn’t give the particulars of this case, but one of its grounds for discipline is “tend[ing] to harm the standing of the profession.”