Human Rights and Obstetric Practice: Legal Issues
THE FUTURE OF OBSTETRICS AND GYNAECOLOGY: The Fundamental Right To
Practice and be Trained According to Conscience: An International Meeting
of Catholic Obstetricians and Gynaecologist
Organised by the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations
(FIAMC) and by MaterCare International
Sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Health Pastoral Care ROME, June
Reproduced with permission
. . . The scientific advances in the field of health
today make possible a number of practices and treatments which sometimes
place the professionals who have to apply them in a clear dilemma whereby
they question the goodness of such practices and not just their legality. .
. In an increasingly pluralistic society, there will be more and more
practices that a doctor may object to . . .It would imply a severe injury to
the doctors' rights if they were left aside for refusing to undertake
certain practices for personal convictions. . .
Both in the practice of medicine and in the number of related professions
involved in medical assistance, very often the professional has to face
serious conscientious objections. This is especially true about the
gynaecological obstetric practice related to sexual health, human
reproduction and the protection of the life of the nascitutrus.
The conscientious objection, which is raised by the professionals,
entails a problem of clash of rights and forces us to establish limits as
regards fundamental rights.
There is no doubt whatsoever that this objection, which is born in the
field of the individual conscience, arises when we are faced with a concrete
legal obligation which has no other alternative of fulfilment and forces the
professional to explain his refusal to fail to comply with a certain legal
The scientific advances in the field of health today make possible a
number of practices and treatments which sometimes place the professionals
who have to apply them in a clear dilemma whereby they question the goodness
of such practices and not just their legality.
In an increasingly pluralistic society, there will be more and more
practices that a doctor may object to such as sterilization, abortion in all
its means, contraception, the solution of pregnancies, non-therapeutic
genetic modifications, etc.
It would imply a severe injury to the doctors' rights if they were left
aside for refusing to undertake certain practices for personal convictions.
In this respect, we would like to draw your attention to the Doctors'
Union Law in Uruguay and to their 1995 Ethical Medical Code, Chapter IV, 2,
which says, "The rights of the doctors, "says article 30, "All doctors have
the right not to be coerced for ideological or economic reasons to perform
his profession in a way unworthy to his own science and art". And in article
32, "He has the right to abstain from performing practices which are opposed
to his ethical conscience although they are approved by the Law. In that
case, he has the obligation to refer the patient to another doctor."
Along these lines, the Spanish general council of official colleges of
doctors, in the words of the Central Commission of Deontology, medical right
and visa, says, "the refusal by the doctor to perform, for ethical or
religious reasons, certain acts which may be commanded or tolerated by the
authorities, is an act of great ethical dignity, when the reasons put
forward by the doctor are serious, sincere and constant and refer to
important and fundamental questions. The objector feels a profound moral
rejection for the acts he objects to, to the point that were he to comply
with the request, he would be betraying his own identity and conscience."
In Argentina, a bill was approved by the Lower House (Chamber of Deputies
&endash; House of Representatives) creating the National Programme of Sexual
Health and Responsible Reproduction and another bill was approved modifying
the law of the practice of medicine adding Article 19b which says, "The
medical professionals and assistants that work in a state or private
institution, when required to use preventive, diagnostic or therapeutic
methods, will be able to express their conscientious objection rightly
substantiated, insofar as no damage, immediate or ulterior, will happen to
the patient". Both bills are now expecting approval by the Senate.