International constitutional and human rights lawyer joins Protection of Conscience Project Advisory Board

News release 

For immediate release

Protection of Conscience Project

The Protection of Conscience Project welcomes Dr. Iain Benson, Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney and Extraordinary Professor of Law, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein South Africa to the Project Advisory Board.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the father of seven children, Professor Benson is an academic, lecturer and practising lawyer specialising in pluralism and human rights.  His particular focus is on freedoms of association, conscience and religion, the nature of pluralism, multi-culturalism and relationships between law, religion and culture. He has been involved in many of the leading cases on rights of association, conscience and religion in Canada and abroad for two decades.  As a barrister he has appeared before all levels of court and his work has been cited by the Supreme Court of Canada and the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

He was one of the drafters of the South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms (signed by all major religions in that country in September 2010) and remains closely involved in advancing the Charter in that country and similar projects elsewhere.

Author of over 40 academic articles and book chapters, he is co-editor with Barry W. Bussey, of Religion Liberty and the Jurisdictional Limits of Law (Toronto: Lexis Nexis, 2017) and authored Living Together with Disagreement: Pluralism, the Secular and the Fair Treatment of Beliefs by Law (Ballan Australia: Connor Court, 2012). His scholarly work is referred to in many books and articles.

He teaches Legal Philosophy, Legal History, Public International Law, Human Rights and Contemporary Legal Issues. He works in English and French, dividing his time between Australia (where he now lives) and France, South Africa and Canada (in the latter two of which he has appointments).

 

Catholic Medical Association Joins with 25,000 Physicians Fighting Proposed Global Abortion Policy to Strip Conscience Rights Protections

News Release

Catholic Medical Association

PHILADELPHIA, PA – FEBRUARY 12, 2018 – Conscience rights protections for health care providers in the U.S. and abroad are once again under attack. The World Medical Association (WMA) representing 10 million physicians worldwide is poised to approve a policy that would demand doctors refer for abortion, even against their conscience.

Although current federal statutes in the U.S. protect health care provider’s conscience rights and prohibit recipients of certain federal funds from discriminating against health care providers, WMA ethics policies greatly impact future regulations of the medical profession globally.

The WMA was founded in 1947 in response to Nazi atrocities during WW II. The organization promotes itself as “evaluating and codifying ethics in healthcare.” Currently the WMA policy requires doctors ensure continuity of care for patients who choose abortion, but not force doctors refer for the procedure. However, the WMA’s proposed revision threatens the conscience rights of all physicians and health care professionals by proposing the following amendment:

“Individual doctors have a right to conscientious objection to providing abortion, but that right does not entitle them to impede or deny access to lawful abortion services because it delays care for women, putting their health and life at risk. In such cases, the physician must refer the woman to a willing and trained health professional in the same, or another easily accessible health-care facility, in accordance with national law. Where referral is not possible, the physician who objects, must provide safe abortion or perform whatever procedure is necessary to save the woman’s life and to prevent serious injury to her health.”

The proposed changes in policy would also eliminate the provision that “requires the physician to maintain respect for human life.”

“We do not believe abortion is healthcare. The international impact on this global abortion policy is incalculable,” said CMA President Dr. Peter T. Morrow. “We join with the representatives of over 25,000 physicians, nurses, health care providers and patient advocates who provide excellent, scientific, ethical and moral healthcare in accordance with the principles of the Oath of Hippocrates. Collectively we request that the WMA’s revision be rejected, it is subversive of physician freedom of conscience concerning abortion in the short term, and euthanasia and assisted suicide in the long term.”

The American Medical Association (AMA) is an associate member of the WMA and can recommend rejections and or revisions.  The CMA supports conscience rights of all healthcare professionals with regards to abortion as well as physician assisted suicide, and is jointly sending a letter co-written by: American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Pediatricians, Christian Medical & Dental Associations, National Association of Catholic Nurses-U.S.A. and The National Catholic Bioethics Center to the AMA strongly denouncing the WMA’s proposed change forcing physicians to violate their conscience rights.

The WMA’s proposed changes could become a global policy. The general assembly is scheduled to vote in October.

Contact:

Susanne LaFrankie, MA
Diector of Communications
email: lafrankie@cathmed.org


The Catholic Medical Association is a national, physician-led community of over 2,400 health care professionals. CMA’s mission is to inform, organize, and inspire its members, to uphold the principles of the Catholic faith in the science and practice of medicine.

Doctor’s role in abortion law ‘must be clarified’

Irish Independent

Eilish O’Regan

Doctors have stressed the need for legal clarity to allow them to act in line with their own conscience and personally held views if the country’s abortion laws are changed.

Health Minister Simon Harris has promised the draft legislation, setting out proposals to widen grounds for abortion, will be published next month. . . If controversial proposals to allow unrestricted access to abortion pills in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy go ahead, GPs in particular will be in the frontline for delivering the service.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said that, as is the case across the community, individual doctors hold different and often strongly held views on matters like abortion. . . [Full text]

 

GPs will seek new State contract for abortion services

IMO says family doctors will want provision to opt out on conscience grounds

Irish Times

Martin Wall

GPs will seek to be paid for operating any new abortion service under a new separate contract with the State if the planned referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment is carried.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said at the weekend that GPs would also have to be permitted to opt out of any new abortion service on conscience grounds. . . The IMO has said individual GPs could not and should not be obliged to provide an abortion service. . . [Full text]

 

Canadian court rules that state can compel participation in homicide and suicide

News Release

For immediate release

Protection of Conscience Project

Three judges of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice Divisional Court have unanimously ruled that, notwithstanding religious convictions to the contrary, Ontario  physicians can be forced to help patients access any and all services and procedures, including euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“In the end,” observed Project Administrator Sean Murphy,  “the ruling effectively gives the state the power to compel citizens to be parties to homicide and suicide, even if they believe it is wrong to kill people or help them kill themselves.”

The Protection of Conscience Project jointly intervened in the case with the Catholic Civil Rights League and Faith and Freedom Alliance on the issue of freedom of conscience.  The court acknowledged the submission, but explicitly limited its ruling to the exercise of freedom of religion.  It did not address freedom of conscience.

The court approved the reasoning of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the state medical regulator.  The College argued that “physicians must be prepared to take positive steps to facilitate patient access” to euthanasia and assisted suicide, and that there is “no qualitative difference” between euthanasia and “other health services.”

With respect to options of objecting physicians, the court observed that they are free to change their field of practice in order to avoid moral conflicts.  The judges added that those who fail to do so are to blame for any psychological distress they might experience if compelled to violate their convictions.  It appears that they were unconcerned that this might further reduce the number of family and palliative care physicians, noting that there was “no evidence” that coercive policies would adversely affect physicians “in any meaningful numbers.”

Dr. Shimon Glick, advisor to the Project and Professor Emeritus of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, described the ruling as “sad.”  Commenting on the decision, Project Advisor Professor Roger Trigg of Oxford said, “once the perceived interests of the State override the moral conscience of individuals  – and indeed of professionals- particularly in matters of life and death, then we are treading a slippery slope to totalitarianism.”

“Even the first steps- that may not seem important to some,” he warned, “are taking us in that direction.”

Professor Trigg’s warning was echoed by Professor Abdulaziz Sachedina, a leading Islamic scholar and philosopher who also serves on the Project Advisory Board.  Professor Sachedina asked, “Are we  going to submit to “totalitarian ethics” reflected in such court decisions, making suicide a tempting option without any regard to conscientious objection?”

The decision concluded legal proceedings launched jointly by five Ontario physicians, the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, Canadian Physicians for Life, and the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies.  They are considering the possibility of appeal.

Contact:
Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project
E-mail: protection@consciencelaws.org


The Protection of Conscience Project is a non-profit, non-denominational initiative that advocates for freedom of conscience in health care. The Project does not take a position on the morality or acceptability of morally contested procedures. Since 1999, the Project has been supporting health care workers who want to provide the best care  for their patients without violating their own personal and professional integrity. 

 

 

Canadian court tells doctors they must refer for euthanasia

Will they be hounded out of their profession?

MercatornNet

Michael Cook

For years bioethicists of a utilitarian cast have argued that conscientious objection has no place in medicine. Now Canadian courts are beginning to put their stamp of approval on the extinction of doctors’ right to refuse to kill their patients.

The Superior Court of Justice Division Court of Ontario ruled this week that if doctors are unwilling to perform legal actions, they should find another job.

A group of five doctors and three professional organizations were contesting a policy issued by Ontario’s medical regulator, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), arguing it infringed their right to freedom of religion and conscience under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

However, Justice Herman J. Wilton-Siegel wrote on behalf of a three-member panel:

“the applicants do not have a common law right or a property right to practise medicine, much less a constitutionally protected right.

“Those who enjoy the benefits of a licence to practise a regulated profession must expect to be subject to regulatory requirements that focus on the public interest, rather than the interests of the professionals themselves.”

At issue is the policy of “effective referral”. A doctor who objects to participating in euthanasia cannot be forced to do it. But he is expected to pass the patient to another doctor who will. The CPSO argues that effective referral is necessary “to protect the public, prevent harm to patients and facilitate access to care for patients in our multicultural, multifaith society, by guiding all physicians on how to uphold their professional and ethical obligations of non-abandonment and of patient-centred care within the context of Ontario’s public health-care system.”

Without the policy of effective referral, equitable access would be “compromised or sacrificed, in a variety of circumstances, more often than not involving vulnerable members of our society at the time of requesting services,” Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel wrote. People in remote communities might request euthanasia. If their doctor refused, they might suffer needlessly and taxpayers would have to foot the bill to subsidise the refusnik’s conscience.

It is remarkable how closely Justice Wilton-Siegel’s text hews to the arguments of bioethicists who have been chipping away at the right to conscientious objection for years.

In 2005 American legal scholar Alta Charo described conscientious objection as “an unfettered  right to personal autonomy while holding monopolistic control over a public good … an abuse of the public trust—all  the worse if it is not in fact a personal act of conscience but, rather, an attempt at cultural conquest’.

In 2006 Oxford’s Julian Savulescu argued in the BMJ that “when conscientious objection compromises the quality, efficiency, or equitable delivery of a service, it should not be tolerated”.

More recently, Canadian bioethicist Udo Schuklenk and a colleague contended in the BMJ that

“If at any given time a doctor is unable to continue practicing due to their—ultimately arbitrary—conscience views, nothing would stop them from leaving the profession and taking up a different vocation. This happens across industries and professions very frequently. Professionals can be expected to take responsibility for the voluntary choices they make.”

Responding to the ruling, Larry Worthen, executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, said: “We heard from our members and other doctors with conscientious objections over and over again that they felt referral made them complicit and that they wouldn’t be able to live with themselves or stay in the profession if effective referral is still required.”

The case is sure to be appealed, but if the doctors championing conscientious objection fail, the consequences will be dire.

Throughout Canada, doctors would be required to refer for euthanasia. If they refuse, they will be hounded out of their profession, or, at best, shunted into specialties where the question will not arise, like pathology or dermatology.

This ruling shows how quickly tolerance vanishes after euthanasia has been legalised. In the Carter decision which legalised it, Canada’s Supreme Court explicitly stated that legalizing euthanasia did not entail a duty on the part of physicians to provide it. Now, however, 18 months and more than a thousand death after legalisation, conscientious objection is at risk.

It also shows how vulnerable religious-based arguments can be. The plaintiffs contended that referring patients violated their right to religious freedom. While this is true, is this the main ground for conscientious objection? As several doctors pointed out in the Canadian Medical Association Journal last year, “Insofar as all refusals of therapy are ultimately justified by the ethical belief that the goal of therapy is to provide benefit and avoid harm, all treatment refusals are matters of conscience.”


This article is published by Michael Cook and MercatorNet under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation to MercatorNet. Commercial media must contact MercatorNet for permission and fees.

Church calls for Scottish Bill to back medics’ conscience rights

Scottish Catholic Observer

Amanda Connelly

The Catholic Church in Scotland has called for a bill that gives medical professionals the right to conscientiously object to medical procedures such as abortion.

The comments come after Baroness O’Loan’s new Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill for England and Wales, which looks to ensure conscience rights for medical professionals, had a second hearing in the House of Lords on Friday January 26.

“While the bill only applies to England and Wales, its progress should be of interest to people in Scotland, where hopefully a similar bill could be presented to the Scottish Parliament,” director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office Anthony Horan said. . . . [Full text]

 

The War on the Hippocratic Oath

First Things

Wesley J. Smith

The screaming was so loud, you would have thought that the Trump administration had overturned Roe v. Wade. It hadn’t, of course. But it had directed needed attention at the existing legal protection that allows doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in abortions without fear of firing or other job sanctions. This protection is sometimes called “medical conscience rights.”

The occasion for the uproar? The Department of Health and Human Services announced its intention to create a new office of Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to enforce medical conscience. It is worth noting that this proposed action will not change the law. . . [Full text]

 

Doctors Condemn Massachusetts Suicide Bill

Bill would force every doctor to participate in prescribing lethal medication

The Washington Free Beacon

Bill McMorris

Doctors in Massachusetts are speaking out against a proposal to approve physician-assisted suicide, arguing that its End of Life Options Act could force all doctors to participate in doling out lethal medication and pressure patients into suicide.

On Tuesday, Dr. Tom Sullivan, former president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, led more than 20 physicians into the statehouse to urge lawmakers to oppose a bill that would grant immunity to doctors who help terminal patients kill themselves. . .  the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) overturned its long-standing condemnation of the practice and voted to remain neutral on the legislation.  Sullivan and several other former MMS presidents spoke out against the neutral stance during debate. While they were unsuccessful in swaying the vote, they were able to insert language into the society’s stance, including conscience protections for any doctor who objected to the practice. The current bill includes no such protections . . . [Full text]

Ontario court rules doctors who oppose assisted death must refer patients

The Globe and Mail

Sean Fine

In the first Canadian test of conscience rights for doctors who oppose assisted death, an Ontario court has upheld regulations requiring the objectors to refer their patients to physicians willing to perform the procedure.

Groups representing 4,700 Christian doctors had challenged Ontario’s regulations requiring the referrals, saying that making such a referral was morally equivalent to participating in an assisted death.

But Ontario’s Divisional Court said the referral rule was a reasonable limit on doctors’ freedom of religion because it protects vulnerable patients from harm. And those patients, it said, have a constitutional right to equitable access to publicly funded health care.

Without the policy of “effective referral,” equitable access would be “compromised or sacrificed, in a variety of circumstances, more often than not involving vulnerable members of our society at the time of requesting services,” Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel wrote in the 3-0 ruling on Wednesday. . . [Full text]