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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude
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July-September, 2002


28 September, 2002
International conference-Rome

MaterCare International will hold its second international workshop of Catholic obstetricians and gynecologists in Rome, from October 23 to 27. The conference has been organized along with the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC). One of the primary goals of the meeting will be to address how MCI can function in the face of strong bias among international agencies against physicians who refuse to perform abortions for reasons of conscience.

27 September, 2002
Guernsey to investigate legalizing euthanasia

Members of the House of Deliberation of Guernsey, a Channel Island, has voted to investigate the legalization of voluntary euthanasia, an action that indicates that they are in favour of changing the law. Guernsey is not part of the United Kingdom. It is subject directly to the British sovereign, and is not subject to laws passed by the British Parliament unless the laws specifically include such a provision. The Privy Council must approve Guernsey's statutes.

25 September, 2002
US House of Representatives passes freedom of conscience bill

By a vote of 229 to 189, the US House of representatives has passed the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 4691). The bill will allow health providers and insurers who object to abortion for reasons of conscience to refuse to perform, pay for, counsel or refer patients for abortion services. It must pass the US Senate in order to become law.

24 September, 2002
US House of Representatives to vote on freedom of conscience bill

On Wednesday, September 25, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 4691).

Eugenic screening criticized

A deaf couple in Victoria, Australia, will be allowed to conceive embryos by in vitro fertilization and have them screened using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to identify embryos that might carry a gene for deafness. The couple wishes to avoid having a deaf child. An Australian ethicist described the decision as "horrible on a number of levels".

23 September, 2002
Belgium legalizes euthanasia

Belgium has legalized euthanasia for terminally-ill patients who request it. A permanent committee has been established to monitor the operation of the new law. Opinion polls last year found that 72 percent of respondents supported the law under certain conditions.

Push for euthanasia continues in United Kingdom

A petition containing 50,000 names calling for legalization of assisted suicide/euthanasia has been presented at the Prime Minister's official residence at No.10 Downing Street by the widower of Diane Pretty, a motor-neurone disease sufferer whose legal suit seeking legalization of assisted suicide was dismissed.

Destructive embryo research approved in California

Governor Gray Davis of California has signed legislation that allows the use of state funds for destructive embryo research programmes and requires IVF fertility clinics to inform clients about the option of donating their spare embryos to research. Davis hopes to see California become a world leader in the field. Such developments signal problems for researchers and health care workers who have moral objections to such research.

19 September, 2002
Euthanasia bill introduced

Green Party member Robin Chapple has introduced a bill to legalize euthanasia in West Australia. The bill is unlikely to come up for debate before next year.

16 September, 2002
New guidelines for terminal sedation

Laura Hawryluck, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, has circulated new guidelines to Canadian hospitals that are intended to make clearer the distinction between 'terminal sedation' and euthanasia or assisted suicide. Terminal sedation would be defined as palliative care if the doctor's intent to relieve pain were clearly documented, so that it could be easily understood by families and identified by coroners and other authorities reviewing a case. The guidelines make the customary statement that if drugs are necessary to relieve pain and suffering, they may be administered even if they may hasten death. It may be two to three years before some form of the guidelines are formally adopted as 'standard of care' statements by medical colleges and authorities.

The National Post (Canada) news report stated as a fact - without attribution - that "close to 300 Canadians die in agony" every day. It also referred to the case of Dr. Nancy Morrison, a Halifax physician charged for first-degree murder, asserting that she administered drugs to 'hasten the demise' of a patient who was not responding to painkillers. In fact, she administered potassium chloride. This is not a pain-relieving medication, but a chemical that used for killing. [See CMAJ Commentary] The news report's reference to her case hardly contributes to the clarity that the guidelines themselves are intended to provide.

Dr. Margaret Somerville, director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law in Montreal, takes the position that patients should have a legal right to adequate pain relief, but would like to see parts of the document reworded to ensure that it cannot be used as a springboard for euthanasia. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has expressed its support for the guidelines.

13 September, 2002
Canadian agency accused of discriminating against conscientious objectors

The head of MaterCare International (MCI), a group of Catholic obstetricians and gynecologists dedicated to the care of women in the developing world, charges that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has refused to fund MCI's new birth trauma center in the African country of Ghana because MCI does not perform abortions. [See story]

12 September, 2002
Routine eugenic testing refused at fertility clinic

The Bourn Hall fertility clinic in Cambridgeshire is refusing to offer routine pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) on embryos babies conceived through in vitro fertilization. Such testing is increasingly demanded in order to identify genetic anomalies, such as Down's syndrome, so that the embryos can be destroyed or an abortion performed. Health care workers who object to eugenic testing for moral reasons are frequently subjected to enormous pressures to provide them, including the threat of 'wrongful birth' and 'wrongful life lawsuits'. [Cambridge Newspapers]

10 September, 2002
Abnormalities plague clones

Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch, professor of biology at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has found that up to 4% of the genes in a clone's placenta appear to be abnormal. Jaenisch believes that all clones have genetic abnormalities, and that those that survive do so only because their abnormalities are less severe. It is suggested that this may present a biological barrier to cloning. If the difficulties do not prove insurmountable, they may slow the push for human cloning and allow time for reflection about the impact that artificial reproductive technologies may have on conscientious objectors.

9 September, 2002
Refusal of hospitals to perform euthanasia considered 'problematic'

The 14th Conference of the World Federation of the Right to Die Societies met from 5 to 8 September, 2002, in Brussels. Speakers advocated legalization of euthanasia, as well as expansion of existing laws that permit it. The former minister of Health of the Netherlands suggested consideration of the situation of "people who are not ill, but have lost the meaning for life." Pieter Admiraal of the Netherlands asserted that there is only a "semantic difference" between terminal sedation and euthanasia. Of particular note were comments to the effect that the refusal of a group of hospitals in Belgium to perform euthanasia was "problematic". Reports from the United Kingdom and France indicated a continuing public interest in legalizing euthanasia. All of this indicates that health care workers who object to euthanasia and assisted suicide are likely to face increasing pressure to participate.

5 September, 2002
Bishops protest UN, international pressure

The Roman Catholic bishops of 25 Latin American countries have warned that the United Nations, the European Union and international non-governmental organizations are pressuring their countries to legalize abortion and legislate against family life. The statement is a reminder of the need to ensure that health care workers in developing countries are not deprived of freedom of conscience by policies or laws instituted in response to international pressures.

Irish physicians' group favours abortion

The Irish group Doctors for Choice, which represents 100 Irish physicians who are in favour of abortion, have asked Ireland's Medical Council to allow them to refer women for abortions, and to stop regarding abortion as professional misconduct.

Recovered doctor sues hospital

Dr Fiona Smith, a Scots general practitioner, is suing the Dundee Royal Infirmary (Tayside Universities Hospital Trust), alleging that medical staff advised her family that she was in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) and had suggested that food and fluids be withdrawn to "let nature take its course." The hospital maintains that a diagnosis of PVS had not been made, and that any talk of withdrawing nourishment and hydration was simply intended to prepare the family for making difficult decisions. Dr. Smith emerged from the coma after she was moved to St Mary's Hospital in Lanark, run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. Whatever the legal merits of the case, it indicates how health care workers attending such patients may find themselves in conflicts of conscience should their moral or medical judgement differ from that of the team or instititution. This is particularly so when a patient is to be starved and dehydrated by withdrawal of assisted nutrition and hydration.


31 August, 2002
Switzerland reported to be forcing Catholic hospitals to provide abortions

An article in The Medical Post (July 16,2002) states that the new abortion law in Switzerland will require Catholic hospitals to provide abortions.

22 August, 2002
Abortion legalized, conscience protection reduced

The legislative assembly of Australia's Capital Territory (ACT) has formally legalized abortion, the first state in Australia to do so. The bill to amend the Medical Practitioners Act included a clause that is intended to prevent conscientious objectors from being forced to participate in abortions. However, the assembly also repealed the Health Regulation )Maternal Health Information) Act, which ensured that health care workers could not be compelled to counsel, advise or refer for abortion. The net result is a reduction in the legal protection available for conscientious objectors.

20 August, 2002
Refusing life-sustaining treatment

The United Kingdom's General Medical Council has prepared new guidelines that affirm the right of patients to refuse life-sustaining treatment and care; health care workers must respect the refusal.

13 August, 2002
Washington State suppresses religious freedom

Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire has ruled that employers cannot refuse to provide birth-control pills and other prescription contraceptives for moral or religious reasons. The ruling followed an attempt by Catholic-operated Sacred Heart Hospital to assert a religious objection to paying for contraceptive coverage for employees. Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler claimed that he recognized a right to conscientious objection, but immediately contradicted himself by asserting that conscientious objection cannot stand in the way "of a woman's right to this vital and legal coverage." According to the news report, Washington is the 17th state to require state-regulated insurance plans with comprehensive drug policies to provide contraceptives, including birth-control pills, intrauterine devices, diaphragms, implants and injectable contraceptives. These continuing attacks on the exercise of religious freedom have been fuelled by a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling that excluding birth-control coverage is discriminatory, and a similar ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik in Seattle a year ago. [Seattle Post Intelligencer]

12 August, 2002
Compulsory abortion training in California

A bill proposed in California would require all accredited medical schools to teach abortion to ob/gyn residents. The bill was passed in the state assembly in June and is to be debated in August in the state senate. While doctors or schools would be able to opt out for moral or religious reasons, it would require the objecting medical schools to see that residents could get the instruction elsewhere. There are 22 accredited ob/gyn residency programmes in the state, but the news report did not indicate whether or not any of these programmes are in institutions that would find such referral objectionable. The Mercury News

9 August, 2002
Muslim leaders condemn mass distribution of birth control

Banding Drammeh, president of the Supreme Islamic Council in Gambia, denounced indiscriminate distribution of birth control devices to youngsters and unmarried couples as "completely un-Islamic or irreligious". This illustrates the potential for conflict with local health care workers whose cultural, moral and religious traditions conflict with the anti-population agenda of international agencies and developed nations.

8 August, 2002
Nurse charged in South Africa

The Mpumalanga health department announced that a nurse from the Philadelphia hospital has been formally charged with gross violation of patients' rights. The nurse is to appear at a disciplinary hearing on 14 August. The charge resulted from the broadcast of secretly recorded video footage in June. [See Controversy erupts in South Africa] Among other things, the tapes showed that patients had to remove the foetuses from their bodies themselves and put them in waste bins because the nurses did not want to touch them. It is possible that more nurses will be charged. The situation appears to have arisen at least in part because the government failed to take into account the widespread opposition to abortion among health care workers. See the letters from Dr. Harvey Ward of Cape Town, and the text of a survey he conducted in the Western Cape in 1997. Other relevant background information is found in the article No Place for Abortion in African Traditional Life - Some Reflections .

7 August, 2002
Aborted foetuses used in research

A news report in Australia states that Australian scientists have been using tissue from aborted foetuses in research for 20 years. Professor Bernie Tuck of the Diabetes Transplant Unit at Sydney's Prince of Wales hospital, interviewed for the report, acknowledged that some people initially experience nightmares after handling the tissue, but said that the effects wore off over time. He stated that if a researcher in the group did not wish to use foetal tissue "we would not put them on that particular programme." [The World Today]

Meanwhile, ES Cell International of Melbourne, Australia, which now exports embryonic stem cell tissue cultured on tissue from mouse foetuses, plans to use tissue from aborted foetuses in the commercial production of embryonic stem cells. Exports may begin next year. Chief Executive Robert Klupacs hopes to develop a way to produce billions of stem cells in fermentation tanks. [Herald Sun]

The Prime Minister's office has stated that proposed Australian legislation to legalize destructive embryonic stem cell research would neither prevent nor facilitate the use of aborted foetuses. [The Mercury]

6 August, 2002
British peer claims abortion justifies euthanasia

Baroness Warnock, whose report led to the legal regulation of IVF and embryo experimentation in the UK, has asserted that euthanasia should be permitted and that the present law against it is irrational. Writing in Counsel, a professional journal for barristers in England and Wales, she argued that it is not reasonable to permit the abortion of handicapped infants while denying euthanasia to someone who, "unlike the foetus, is able to make her own judgement that her life is intolerable." The article demonstrates that pressure for the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide is unlikely to diminish. Once legalized, pressure to participate will almost certainly be increasingly applied to health care workers, just as pressure is now too often applied to force them to participate in abortion or other morally controversial procedures.

1 August, 2002
Medical experimentation on incapacitated

The Alliance for Human Research Protection urges Californians to oppose bill AB2328, which would allow surrogates to consent to medical experiments upon incapacitated persons. Health care workers and institutions opposed to such experimentation may find themselves in a difficult position if the law is passed without protection for them.


30 July, 2002
Senators try to force contraceptive & abortifacient coverage

American Senators Harry Reid (Nevada Republican) and Olympia Snowe (Maine Republican) are reported to be planning to attach a "contraceptive mandate" to a prescription drug bill recently passed by the House of Representatives. This would force bodies covered by prescription drug insurance to include coverage for contraceptives and abortifacient drugs. [News link]

29 July, 2002
UK court rejects claims re: contraceptive pill

An English High Court judge accepted arguments that there is no evidence linking third generation contraceptive pills to increased risk of blood clots, and has dismissed a test case brought by 100 women against the pills' manufacturers.

Report predicts abortionist depression

A report commissioned by the National Health Service Board of Glasgow, Scotland, and prepared by the Family Planning Association, which supports abortion, states that doctors whose only duty is to perform abortions would become depressed. The finding surprised the honorary secretary of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, but would not surprise physicians who object to abortion for reasons of conscience. [Sunday Herald]

23 July, 2002
Malta rejects abortion as condition for membership in European Union

Reacting to the European Parliament's wish that abortion and the morning after pill be made freely available in all member countries, and that sex education be provided from "early in life", Malta has asserted that the European Union is incompetent to legislate on domestic issues. Malta's Permanent Delegate to the EU, Ambassador Victor Camilleri, stated that abortion will continue to be illegal in Malta. [Times of Malta] [Previous report]

22 July, 2002
German women increasing use of abortifacient drug

Mifepristone (mifegyne) use in Germany increased 21% in the first three months of 2002, according to the German federal statistics institute Destatis. Conscientious objectors may encounter problems when women come to hospitals expecting physicians to complete abortions that they initiated with the drug.

18 July, 2002
Singapore promises freedom of conscience in embryo research

Tony Tan, Singapore's deputy prime minister, has promised that conscientious objectors will not be forced to participate in embryonic stem cell research. His comment followed news that Singapore will authorize human cloning for research purposes on condition that cloned embryos are killed after 14 days. Similar guarantees have not been forthcoming from other countries contemplating legal regulation of artificial reproductive technologies.

18 July, 2002
Underground assisted suicide movement

Russel Ogden, a Vancouver criminologist, has recently asserted that an underground network exists to help terminally ill people commit suicide. Ogden's 1994 Master of Arts thesis Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Persons with AIDS or HIV led him to argue that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legalized because people "are dying in conditions akin to those of a backstreet abortion."

July 11, 2002
American Civil Liberties Union opposes freedom of conscience

The U.S. House of Representatives heard testimony about a new protection of conscience bill that would prevent private and religious hospitals and other medical facilities from being forced to provide abortions. News reports have described the measure as a "pro-life" bill rather than a "human rights" bill; the appellation is likely to generate opposition from some parties, including the American Civil Liberties Union. [Audio recording of hearing]

8 July, 2002
Abortifacient drug to be more widely available in UK

Mifepristone (often called RU-486) is to be made available free to girls and women by the British National Health Services. The drug is used to chemically induce abortions. [BBC News online, Daily Telegraph] While this might seem to be one way of alleviating pressures on conscientious objectors, it creates two new complications. First: it may place demands on pharmacists or others who may not previously have been involved with abortions. Second: women who take the drug may arrive on hospital emergency wards with complications that may include incomplete abortions. In cases in which there is a chance to save the baby, health care workers who object to abortion may find themselves in conflict with women who demand that the objectors complete what they or other physicians have begun. Ironically, this problem was one of the reasons given for legalizing abortion.

6 July, 2002
European Union Parliament demands all countries provide abortion

The European Parliament has accepted a report by Anne Van Lancker, a Socialist member of the EU Committee on Women's Rights and Equal Opportunity. The report demands that abortion and the morning after pill be made freely available in all member countries, and that sex education be provided from "early in life". The report makes no mention of parental authority in the education and treatment of their children, and is an attack on the sovereignty of member nations like Ireland, Spain, and Portugal, which place restrictions on abortion. The adoption of the report might also be used to blackmail nations that wish to join the European Union.

5 July, 2002
No change foreseen in Dutch euthanasia law

Contrary to earlier speculation, the new Dutch government will review the euthanasia law, but does not appear to be interested in revoking or restricting it. [News]

British Medical Association rejects assisted suicide

Despite pressures arising from the case of Dianne Pretty, whose campaign for assisted suicide took her to the European Court of Human Rights, the annual conference of the British Medical Association rejected changes to its policy against the practice. [The Western Mail]

3 July, 2002
Woman charged for two assisted suicides

A 71 year old woman of Langford, British Columbia, Canada, has been charged for assisting in the suicides of two women, one of them a former nun. Predictably, the news has generated calls legalization of assisted suicide. Such a change would significantly impact conscientious objectors within health care professions, but this problem is being ignored. [Globe and Mail; Victoria Times Colonist]

2 July, 2002
Changes of mind frequent after requests for assisted suicide

Nearly 90% of those who ask for assisted suicide later change their mind, according to a recent American study of Oregon's Death With Dignity Act.