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Protection of Conscience Project

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October-December, 2002


31 December, 2002
Umbilical stem cells provide non-controversial alternative

Dr Hal Broxmeyer's team at Indiana university have discovered that umbilical stem cells frozen for up to15 years can be thawed and used to produce transplant tissue. It had previously been thought that they could be used for only five years. Since there are more than 100,000 umbilical samples stored around the world, using umbilical stem cells would avoid the controversy and ethical conflicts that arise when stem cells are taken from aborted children, or from embryos produced by in vitro fertilization or cloning. [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Daily Telegraph]

Complicity and freedom of conscience

74 year old Reginald Crew of Liverpool plans to travel to Zurich, Switzerland in order to commit suicide with the assistance of a euthanasia society there. Mr. Crew has motor neurone disease. The case illustrates the importance of protection of conscience laws, since the complicity of others is an essential feature of pro-euthanasia/assisted suicide policies.

30 December, 2002
Scots officials not opposed to reproductive cloning

Claims by Clonaid that a cloned child has been born has generated severe criticism in most of the world, but Professor Sheila McLean of Glasgow University complains that the opposition has been based on religious grounds. She asserts that there are no convincing arguments against reproductive cloning. Her views appear to be shared by Richard Holloway, the former Anglican bishop of Edinburgh and primus of the Scottish Episcopal church. He suggested that a case could be made for cloning in cases of infertility. Professor McLean's criticism implies that religious beliefs cannot afford a basis for public policy decisions, effectively disenfranchising religious believers in favour of atheists and agnostics.

27 December, 2002
Dutch euthanasia not justified by psychological suffering

The Dutch supreme court has refused the appeal of Dr. Philip Sutorius from his conviction for assisting in the suicide of an 86 year old man who was "tired of living" but otherwise well. The original trial court found Dr Sutorius not guilty, but an appeals court overturned the verdict. The ruling confirms that psychological suffering cannot be cited as a reason for euthanasia in Holland.

24 December, 2002
Catholic University finally agrees to accommodate Catholic student

Duquesne Catholic University has agreed to allow freshman Lina Bird to enroll for the spring session. Bird, a Catholic, had refused vaccines produced from aborted fetal tissue, and the University had blocked her spring re-enrollment. Bird was supported by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The University has also agreed to accommodate future students.

17 December, 2002
Japanese euthanasia society

Japan 's Society for Dying with Dignity asserts that it has 100,000 members, three-quarters of whom are over age 65; nearly 70% are women. The news report does not indicate what influence the society exerts in the country. (Newslink)

Canadian parliamentary committee mandates IVF for lesbians, single women

The House of Commons Health Committee has passed a government bill to regulate in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and destructive research on human embryos. The committee added amendments to ensure that IVF treatment would be available to all women, regardless of sexual orientation or marital status. The bill has been returned for third and final reading to the Commons. (See Project Submission)

11 December, 2002
Marketing displaces science in plans for cloning

Dr. Irving Weissman, a Stanford University researcher, denies that Somatic Cell nuclear Transfer (SCNT) is a form of cloning. The statement is connected with the university's plans to mass-produce stem cells, and is inconsistent with the definition of SCNT used by the American Association of Medical Colleges. It appears to be an effort to avoid ethical concerns associated with human cloning. The experience of conscientious objectors to the morning-after-pill among pharmacists is that marketing terminology quickly displaces accurate scientific terminology, and that this displacement greatly complicates the task of explaining their position to their colleagues and the public. (Washington Post)

10 December
Australian and Belgian Senates approve destructive embryo research

The Australian and Belgian Senates have passed bills that will permit destructive embryo research. The Belgian bill allows human cloning for 'therapeutic' purposes, and also permits the production of human embryos for research when embryos left over from fertility treatments are not available.

6 December, 2002
Respect for human embryos now a "foolish expression"

"You cannot respectfully pour something down the sink-which is the fate of the embryo after it has been used for research, or if it is not going to be used for research or for anything else. I think that what we meant by the rather foolish expression 'respect' was that the early embryo should never be used frivolously for research purposes."

In these words, Baroness Warnock disavowed the term used in her report that led to Britain's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. Her remarks came during a debate in the House of Lords on embryonic stem cell research (SPUC). They demonstrate that freedom of conscience is better secured by law than by reliance upon the favoured phrase of the moment.

5 December, 2002
Maltese protocol preserves national law

A special protocol is reported to guarantee that Malta's acceptance into the European Union would not require the country to abandon its law against abortion. Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami announced that his government had negotiated the protocol. (See previous item)

4 December, 2002
The 'ethics of the profession' in retrospect

Those who are convinced that the legality of a procedure or the current 'ethics of the profession' warrant the suppression of freedom of conscience in health care might reflect upon the formal apology by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber for a eugenics law that led to the forced sterilization of 2,500 people between 1917 and 1983. The procedure was clearly legal, and ethical according to the dominant standard of practice at the time, yet it is unlikely that anyone would now appeal to the law or to that standard to justify the practice. (Newslink)

3 December, 2002
Study may end transplantation of aborted fetal tissue

A second study, conducted by Warren Olanow, a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, has demonstrated that implanting aborted fetal tissue not only fails to ameliorate Parkinson's Disease, but produces debilitating side effects. The replication of the findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine in March, 2001, is expected to bring an end to further transplants of fetal tissue, thus reducing the likelihood that those with moral objections to the procedure will find themselves in conflict.

2 December, 2002
Australian euthanasia advocate continues campaign

Philip Nitschke plans to market what he will call an oxygen machine, complete with chemicals that will release pure carbon monoxide into the face mask. His intention is to provide people with a machine that will kill them quickly if they ignore the pro forma advice not to use the CO producing chemicals. ( Herald Sun ) Continuing pressure for legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia should remind people what lies ahead if freedom of conscience for health care workers is not adequately secured.


28 November, 2002
Ovum uterus transplant avoids financial, medical & ethical problems

Dr. Osamu Kato, director of Kato Ladies' Clinic in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward, has invented a new fertility treatment that avoids ethical problems associated with in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination. Ripe ova are removed and transplanted at the back of the uterus in the path of sperm deposited during normal intercourse. The procedure, called the ovum uterus transplant, takes only about five minutes and is extremely cheap compared to IVF. It is also unnecessary to use drugs to hyperstimulate the ovaries to produce a large number of ripe ova. (Newslink)

Plans to legalize abortion in Peru

The legalization of abortion in Peru is being opposed by the Catholic Church. Juan Luis Cardinal Cipriani criticized a proposed amendment to the constitution, noting that scientific evidence demonstrates that "there is life from the first instant of conception," and asserted that to attack that life is murder. Legalization of abortion would likely generate conflicts of conscience among health care workers who might be expected to provide the procedure. (Zenit)

26 November, 2002
Union forced to grant exemption to conscientious objector

After 18 months, and with the help of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, school psychologist Kathleen Klamut, a Christian who works for Ravenna City Schools, will be able to direct part of her union dues to the American Cancer Society. Klamut made the request because the union uses a part of dues collected to support abortion, to which she objects for religious reasons. The Ohio Education Association (OEA) refused her request, and she filed suit with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Act provides that workers with a sincere religious objection have the right to have their union dues deferred to charity. (Newslink)

25 November, 2002
Human parthenogenesis proposed

Professor Ian Wilmut, the scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep, plans to produce human embryos by parthenogenesis. News reports indicate that the proposed technique differs from that used to produce Dolly, though the embryos would be genetic clones of their mother. If successful, the embryos would be allowed to grow for a few days before being destroyed to extract stem cells. Some are suggesting that creating human embryos by parthenogenesis will avoid ethical concerns, since some scientists refuse to acknowledge that embryos produced by parthenogenesis are embryos; they call them "parthenotes". However, the distinction does not appear to be one that will be accepted by those with moral objections to cloning. (Newslink)

22 November, 2002
European parliament seeks ban on human cloning

The European Parliament voted 271 to 154 for an international ban on all forms of human cloning.

Embryonic stem cells unlikely to be used in therapy

John Gearhart, director of research for Johns Hopkins University's Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, made the following statement at said at a conference organized by the National Human Genome Research Institute: "I am not sure these (embryonic stem) cells are going to be used in therapies, but we are going to use the information we get out of this research to get the patient's own cells and work with them to get them to do what we want. This is really where I see the future now." If Gearhart is correct, conscientious objectors involved in therapeutic work may be spared pressure to participate in embryonic stem cell work.

21 November, 2002
Christian-Muslim unity in Kenya

In November, the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims stated that the new constitution should defend life from the moment of conception. Father Emmanuel Ngugi, a Catholic priest, pointed out that both the bible and Koran prohibit abortion, and that that procedure is also contrary to African traditions. (Newslink)

20 November, 2002
Embryo harvesting declared ethical

In a statement in the November issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has declared that harvesting "spare embryos" for embryonic stem cell experimentation is ethical.

Utilitarian ethics and eugenic screening

In a lecture at the University of Rhode Island, Dan W Brock a former philosophy professor at Brown University, now a prominent bioethicist employed by the US National Institutes of Health in Maryland, justified the use of pre-natal genetic screening and abortion to prevent the birth of blind or severely disabled children. Prevention is not for the sake of the disabled child, he argued, but to minimize suffering and lost opportunities in the world. He recommended that the self-assessment of disabled people of their 'quality of life' be discounted as biased by their adaptation to their disability. [Narragansett Times, 20 November]

11 November, 2002
Controversy over late term abortion

A consultant at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, England, has suggested aborting an infant twin with a heart defect. The 19 year old mother is now in the 35th week of gestation. The abortion would be performed by injecting potassium chloride into the infant's heart, so that the dead infant would be delivered when his twin sister was born. Physicians are seriously divided over both the prognosis for the infant, should he be allowed to live, and over the procedure. The hospital's medical director has been threatened by one doctor with legal action should the procedure be performed. [Sunday Times; The Journal] Such procedures generated considerable controversy in Alberta, Canada, where nurses at Foothills Hospital in Calgary complained that they had to participate in late term abortions that resulted in some live births.

6 November, 2002
Bill raises concerns about euthanasia

The anti-euthanasia group ALERT has released a legal opinion critical of the Law Commission's draft Mental Incapacity Bill. Richard Gordon QC, a notable English lawyer, expressed the view that the bill could be used to justify euthanasia and was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998. The bill is related to the British government's proposals to permit the withdrawal of food and fluids from mentally incapacitated patients upon the direction of proxy decision makers.

Concern about euthanasia advocates becoming involved in hospice work

Life Site News reports that a website at claims to represent "Hospice Physicians, Nurses, Social Workers, Chaplains, Home Health Aids and Volunteers" and to support "Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and Self-Deliverance." Traditional hospice work has not endorsed such practices, but the legalization of assisted suicide in Oregon appears to have introduced the concepts. (See Assisted Suicide: What Role for Nurses?)

5 November, 2002
Ultrasound technologist sues for religious discrimination

Ultrasound technician Donald Grant of New Richmond, Wisconsin, fired by Fairview Health Services, is suing his former employer for religious discrimination. Mr. Grant had not faced any conflicts of conscience during 15 years of performing ultrasounds because patients' charts did not include information indicating the reason for the examination. However, when the possibility of abortion was noted on one patient's chart, he asked her if he could pray with her, and she agreed. He then tried to dissuade her from having the abortion, and asked if he could give her name and number to his pastor. His legal claim states that the patient was not offended. The incident was the subject of a meeting with his supervisor and a personnel representative, during which Grant explained his religious objections to abortion and suggested that information about abortion not be included on patient charts. Two hours later he was fired for acting "outside the scope of his position."

The case is not strictly one of conscientious objection, which usually takes the form of refusing to participate in a morally objectionable act. Instead, Mr. Grant appears to be arguing that his religious or conscientious convictions required him to dissuade the patient, and that this expression of conscientious conviction ought to be protected in the same way as conscientious objection. [Minneapolis Star Tribune]

More questions about necessity of abortion

The South East Health Authority, which performs more than half of New Brunswick's hospital abortions, will stop providing the procedure after 31 December, except in cases where the health of a mother and/or baby is at risk. The tacit admission that abortions are not necessarily performed for medical reasons is particularly interesting in viewof the pending civil suit by Dr. Henry Morgentaler. Dr. Morgentaler is trying to force the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to pay for abortions at his private facilities on the grounds that they are 'medically necessary.' Specialists at the Health Authority decided to stop providing abortions because about half the women booked for them fail to appear, while waiting lists for other surgery are long and operating room time is being wasted. It appears that eugenic abortions will continue to be performed at the hospital.

4 November, 2002
British citizen commits suicide in Switzerland

A 77 year old man with throat cancer travelled to Switzerland from the United Kingdom to commit suicide at an assisted suicide facility operated by a Swiss pro-euthanasia society. He died after taking a barbiturate on 25 October. The British Voluntary Euthanasia Society claims that the incident demonstrates the need to make euthanasia and assisted suicide legal in the United Kingdom. [The Observer]

Canadian MP re-introduces protection of conscience bill

Canadian Alliance MP Maurice Vellacott has reintroduced his conscience clause legislation in the Canadian House of Commons. In this session of Parliament it is Bill C-246.


30 October, 2002
New terminology: human subjects

Embryos and foetuses will be classed as "human subjects" in a charter directing the activities of a newly established federal advisory committee to oversee research. This is not the same as declaring them to be "human persons", but the development is interesting.

Abortion drug trial in Italy

During a trial at Turin's Sant'Anna Hospital, 400 women will take Mifepristone (RU-486), together with misoprostol to terminate pregnancies up to seven weeks after their last menstrual period. This may pose problems for conscientious objectors if women present at emergency departments with incomplete abortions, expecting physicians to finish what the drugs began.

Continued efforts toward euthanasia in Australia

The Canberra Times reports that euthanasia advocate Dr. Philip Nitschke is planning acts of civil disobedience to test laws on assisted suicide. As many as 20 people may co-operate in building carbon monoxide generators that he expects one of them to use, inviting prosecution of the 19 survivors. The news report states that "lack of legislation to protect people's right to die was driving the campaign of civil disobedience and development of euthanasia devices."

29 October, 2002
Nurse files suit, employer relents

Cynthia Day, a nurse at a clinic in New Orleans, has been given assurance that she will not be compelled to dispense the 'morning-after pill'. She had been threatened with dismissal, but the filing of a formal complaint by the American Center for Law and Justice appears to have ended the problem. (ACLJ news release)

26 October, 2002
Abortion provider complains about health care workers

Marie Stopes International's South African programme director has complained that provision of abortion in the country is hampered by medical staff who are unwilling to participate in abortions. [, 26 October] Meanwhile, South Africa's Medical Research Council has described 'unwanted pregnancies' as a "health risk for women and their families". Professor Jack Moodley of the MRC complains that "hostile moral attitudes of health workers" are "one of the main factors preventing women preventing women from gaining access to legal abortions." Among other things, he suggests that health professionals should be educated about "the limitation of their rights" regarding providing information and access to abortion. (MRC news release). Doctors for Life in South Africa protested the MRC statement, reminding the Council that a clause in the draft abortion law that would have forced a doctor or nurse to refer patients for abortion was dropped before the bill was voted upon in 1997. (Doctors for Life news release) (Related article)

25 October, 2002
Dispute on necessity of abortion continues

Garry Breitkreuz, Member of Parliament for Yorkton-Melville (Ontario, Canada) challenged the Minister of Health to produce evidence that abortion was medically necessary. He sated that federal, provincial and territorial health ministers had not completed risk/benefit analyses on abortion, and questioned how the procedure could be said to be "medically necessary" before the completion of those studies. He pointed out that the government had been asked for years to produce a list of medically necessary services, and asked if abortion was the only one on the government's list. The argument concerns a dispute about whether or not abortions in private clinics should be tax-paid, but is of concern for conscientious objectors because of the implications of a formal government statement or policy that abortion is "medically necessary".

23 October, 2002
Medical necessity of abortion in dispute

Henry Morgentaler, who operates private abortion facilities in several Canadian provinces, is planning to sue New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for refusing to pay for abortions done by his operation. He claims that the Canada Health Act requires that the abortions be paid for by the province. Both the federal health minister and Morgentaler want to define abortion as "medically necessary" in every case so that they will all be paid for by the state. However, the health minister's own department was unable to produce any evidence that abortion was medically necessary. (See Health Canada letter) Also interesting is the fact that, in Canada, private health care facilities are considered to be illegal, undesirable and undeserving of public funding, but those holding this opinion seem to make an exception in the case of abortion facilities.

22 October, 2002
Malta reassured

Mr Gunther Verheugen, the European Union's commissioner for enlargement has reassured the leader of the Catholic Church in Malta, Archbishop Joseph Mercieca, that the EU will never seek to direct countries about national abortion legislation [Times of Malta, 19 October].

15 October, 2002
British doctor suspended six months for encouraging organ trade

Britain's General Medical Council has suspended a doctor who advised two journalists about how to obtain a kidney transplant from a live donor and what payment would be expected. The journalists had posed as a relative and friend in need of a kidney transplant. The Council found that the doctor had not participated in the trade, but that his conduct amounted to "encouragement of the trade in human organs from live donors". The finding is of particular interest to objectors who do not want to refer for morally objectionable procedures, since it clearly acknowledges that moral responsibility extends beyond active participation in an act. (Reuters)

12 October, 2002
Plan to clone human embryos

Professor Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, the scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep, intends to clone human embryos for research. While he describes 'reproductive cloning' as unsafe and unethical, he hopes that research on the stem cells of cloned embryos (which would cause their destruction) could lead to treatments for a range of adult ailments. [BBC News online, 12 October]

12 October, 2002
Article characterizes moral objection as 'blocking access'

None of six women interviewed in The Guardian indicated that there were medical reasons for abortions that they had had earlier in life; for not dissimilar reasons, they simply didn't want to have their babies. The article also estimates that one in three women will have an abortion during her lifetime. The article complained that physicians opposed to abortion are "able to block access to services on the basis of moral opposition," even though not one of the women interviewed indicated that she had had that kind of problem.

11 October, 2002
Objections to vaccine

Children of God for Life successfully intervened when the State of Illinois attempted to deny benefits to a woman who was refusing to use vaccines derived from aborted fetal tissue. The state was advised that parents need not bring immunization records in order to receive benefits, nor are theyrequired to prove that their children are immunized.

7 October, 2002
Objectors to abortion among English physicians

The teenage pregnancy unit at the department of health sponsored a major survey that has found that one in four general medical practices in England include a doctor who will not participate in abortion. [Daily Telegraph, 7 October]

3 October, 2002
South African nurse convicted

Nursing Sister Sewela Ramaboea will be unable to practise as a nurse for a year after being convicted of professional misconduct by the South African Nursing Council (SANC). Charges against her before the hospital's disciplinary committee had been dropped for lack of evidence. 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 .