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Protection of Conscience Project

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January-March, 2003


31 March, 2003
Euthanasia and assisted suicide in the news in New Zealand

Dr Kay Mitchell of Auckland university anonymously surveyed 2,600 family doctors by mail and found 225 cases in which treatment had been withheld or painkillers used with at least a partial intention to cause an earlier death. Rev. Dr. Michael McCabe, director of the Nathaniel (Catholic bioethics) Centre, expressed concern that the findings could undermine trust in physicians. Dr John Adams, chairman of the New Zealand medical association, commented that the preservation of life is one of a doctor's primary obligations.

Meanwhile, Peter Brown's "Death with Dignity Bill" is to be debated in parliament. Among those opposed to it are Kaikoura M.P. Dr. Lynda Scott, the Maxim Institute and the country's Catholic bishop's conference. Proponents of the legislation include Dr. Philip Nitschke, an Australian euthanasia advocate who is in New Zealand marketing his 'exit bags'. He is also speaking in defence of assisted suicide advocate Lesley Martin, charged with attempting to murder her terminally-ill mother by drug overdose and suffocation.

Continued pressure for legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide, particularly in the absence of protective legislation, is a matter of concern for those who do not wish to participate in such procedures.

28 March, 2003
Guernsey euthanasia committee has not yet met

The president of a legislative committee that is to investigate the legalization of euthanasia/assisted suicide has admitted that the work group has not met in the six months since Guernsey's parliament voted to begin the enquiry.[See Pro-euthanasia postcard campaign in Guernsey ].

27 March, 2003
Merck & Co. acknowledges abortion as source of fetal cell lines in vaccines

Children and God for Life and Human Life International are involved in a struggle with the board of directors of Merck & Co. Inc., a pharmaceutical company that had a net income of $7.2billion in 2002, $34.6 million of which came from viral vaccine sales. The dispute involves a shareholder's resolution put forward by Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer of Human Life International, but highlights the moral controversy involved in the production and use of some vaccines.

26 March, 2003
Survey of morning-after pill use in United Kingdom

A survey of England and Wales conducted by the Department of Health in 2001/02 has been released by the Office for National Statistics. It suggest that 7% of female respondents aged 16-49 and 21% of women aged 18-19 had used the potentially abortifacient morning-after pill during the preceding 12 months. About a million packs of the drug are provided annually in the United Kingdom. The widespread use of the product is likely to make it increasingly difficult for health care workers who, for reasons of conscience, object to dispensing it.

24 March, 2003
United Nations proposes "reward and punishment" to enforce population control

The UN Emergency Unit for Ethiopia is pushing for aggressive population control measures enforced by "reward and punishment" in order to make the country less dependent on foreign food aid. The suggestion may bring Ethiopian health care workers who do not share the United Nations moral outlook into conflict with those who want to impose the UN policy. [] [See No Place for Abortion in African Traditional Life - Some Reflections (2002)]

21 March, 2003
New eugenic screening test

The Lancet reports that a new quadruple blood test has halved the 14% false positive rate associated to current pre-natal screening tests. The tests are used to identify Down's Syndrome and other conditions in order to facilitate abortions, thus presenting a problem for health care workers who object to eugenic practices and/or abortion. [BBC]

20 March, 2003
Taiwanese doctors testify against euthanasia

The Taiwanese legislature, considering an appeal for euthanasia from a leukemia patient, has been told by physicians that better palliative care is the appropriate response to such requests.

19 March, 2003
New York mayor vetoes coercive bill

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, has vetoed a bill that would have required all city hospitals to provide the potentially abortifacient morning-after pill to patients complaining of rape. He asserted that the bill was unnecessary.[New York Post]

18 March, 2003
Immigrant woman fired for refusing abortion

A Filipina woman employed as a live-in caregiver, has been fired and threatened with deportation because she refused to have an abortion. Eurasian Homecare Services and the man who employed her had sent her to Notre Dame Hospital after they learned she was pregnant. The conversation with the there doctor was conducted on her behalf in French, a language she did not understand. When she learned that they were discussing arrangements for an abortion, she refused. [Montreal Gazette]

Assisted suicide bill in New Zealand

Assisted suicide legislation has been proposed by New Zealand First MP Peter Brown. The bill requires two medical opinions, consultation with a psychologist or psychiatrist, and a waiting period. Only those 18 years or older would be allowed to request assisted suicide. Dr Philip Nitschke, a well-known euthanasia advocate from Australia, is on a speaking tour of New Zealand, and has come to the support of a woman charged for attempting to murder her sick mother. Continued advocacy of euthanasia and assisted suicide illustrates the importance of protection of conscience legislation.

17 March, 2003
Euthanasia proposed in China

32 members of the National People's Congress moved that euthanasia should be legalized in China, initially in Beijing and Shanghai. China's coercive population control policies, which already adversely affect health care workers who object to abortion [Chinese health care workers and the 'one-child' policy] provide a particularly troubling backdrop for the proposal.

14 March, 2003
UK attempt to ban euthanasia by starvation and dehydration

The Patients' Protection Bill, which would ban the deliberate withdrawal of nutrition and hydration as a means of causing the death of patients, has received a second reading in the House of Lords and been sent to committee.

Pro-euthanasia postcard campaign in Guernsey

The 58,000 residents of the Channel Island of Guernsey will be receiving postcards from a local group, which they will be asked to sign and return to support legalization of euthanasia. In September of last year the States, Guernsey's parliament, voted to investigate the legalization of euthanasia. 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.

13 March, 2003
Baby to be made to order as blood donor

A hospital ethics committee in Melbourne, Australia, has approved the production of a baby by means of IVF, guided by eugenic screening and tissue matching. The child's parents plan to use blood from the umbilical cord for transfusion to a sick sibling. The case illustrates how artificial reproductive technologies can be used for unforeseen ends which may, in such circumstances, give rise to conflicts of conscience among participating health care workers.

12 March, 2003
US Senate fails to pass coercive measure

A measure that would have forced hospital emergency rooms to dispense the potentially abortifacient morning-after pill to rape complainants failed to muster enough votes in the Senate to pass.

Protection of conscience bill moves forward in Wisconsin

Wisconsin's Senate Labor Committee has approved Senate Bill 21, which would protect pharmacists who, for reasons of conscience, refuse to dispense drugs or devices that would cause death through abortion, euthanasia, physician assisted suicide, etc. Testimony from three pharmacists supporting the bill is available on the Project website.[Testimony of Pharmacist Klubertanz Re: Wisconsin Senate Bill 21]

Assisted feeding to be withdrawn

In the state of Victoria, Australia, a Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruling that a feeding tube could be removed from a woman suffering from dementia will not be challenged. A Right to Life group had appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, but has since withdrawn from the case. It appears that the woman will be starved to death on the grounds that the assisted feeding constitutes medical treatment rather than care.

Culling surplus by lethal injection

The BBC reports that 49 infants in utero were killed by lethal injection in 2001. Most were normal and healthy, but were culled because the mother did not want to bear all of the children she was carrying. The procedure has become more common because of in vitro fertilization, with implantation of more than one of the resulting embryos. [BBC report] Lethal injections of potassium chloride are used in the province of Alberta to ensure that infants scheduled for late term eugenic abortions are dead when they emerge. The practice developed after it was revealed that some infants had survived late term abortions and had been left to die at Foothills Hospital in Calgary. [Nurses At Foothills Hospital Rebel Over The Horrifying Results Of Late-Term 'Genetic Terminations']

7 March, 2003
Abortion in Africa

International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) hosted a conference on 'unsafe abortion' in Kenya in the first week of March, attended by health ministers from Ghana, Mozambique and Namibia. The head of the African Alliance for Women's Reproductive Health and Rights claimed that thousands of African women die annually from unsafe abortions, blaming restrictive abortion laws inherited from former colonial powers. Mrs Charity Ngilu, the Kenyan health minister, has stated that "the denial of women to make free choice on their reproductive
health life is wrong," but bishops of the Catholic, Anglican and Independent Pentecostal churches denounced the statement; Muslim leaders in Kenya are also opposed to abortion. Aside from the fact that reliable statistics cannot be had, the notion that suppression of abortion is an artifact of the colonial period is disputed. [See No Place for Abortion in African Traditional Life - Some Reflections (2002)]. Conference attendees do not appear to have been advised that the failure to take into account the position of conscientious objectors in South Africa was a significant omission in the legalization of abortion in that country. [See Traumatised Health Care Professionals Forced to Take Part in Abortion Procedures].

6 March, 2003
Wrongful life suit in Alberta, Canada

A 'wrongful life' suit will proceed in the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta. Acting on behalf of her disabled daughter, a woman is suing her obstetrician because the child was born with serious physical and mental disabilities. The threat of 'wrongful birth' and 'wrongful life' suits can be used to pressure physicians and others to become involved in eugenic practices, which some find morally objectionable. [News report]

Catholic-Jewish statement affirms freedom of conscience

A joint statement, issued after a first meeting between delegations of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See, a statement was issued that included the following assertion:

4.1. Human life is of unique and highest value in our world. Any attempt to destroy human life must be rejected, and every common effort should be made, in order to promote human rights, solidarity among all human beings, respect for freedom of conscience.

"Autonomy" the most popular reason for assisted suicide

Official statistics published by the Oregon Department of Human Services reveal that 38 people died by physician assisted suicide in the state, which legalized the practice in 1998. 58 people had been given prescriptions for lethal medication. Among the reasons for seeking assisted suicide, concern about "losing autonomy" was expressed by 85% of the patients. [See Assissted Suicide- What Role for Nurses?]

4 March, 2003
Abortions demanded at hospital in South Africa

In the South African town of Rietvlei near Umzimkhulu in Eastern Cape, a controversy has arisen because women were refused abortions at the local hospital. Accusations of misconduct have been leveled at the staff, who are reported to object to the procedure for religious or moral reasons. Those who want to force the staff to provide abortions claim that this is required by the South African Termination of Pregnancy Act. [See South Africa Changes Abortion Law; Are State Doctors in the Western Cape willing to implement the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1996? An opinion survey conducted in the Western Cape in November 1997.; No Place for Abortion in African Traditional Life - Some Reflections (2002))

3 March, 2003
Protection of conscience bills introduced in Wisconsin and Missouri

Legislators in Wisconsin and Missouri have introduced bills that would ensure freedom of conscience for pharmacists with moral objections to dispensing certain drugs. See Wisconsin SB21 and Missouri AB480, and the Project Letter to the Editor.

Australian tribunal claims nutrition and hydration are 'treatment'

Consistent with some notable judicial decisions, the Civil and Administrative Tribunal in the Australian state of Victoria has decided that artificial nutrition and hydration are forms of medical treatment rather than care. The decision paves the way for a proxy decision maker to cause the death of a patient by withdrawing food and fluids, a procedure which is likely to give rise to conflicts of conscience for some health care workers.


28 February, 2003
TV programme claims Dutch euthanasia guidelines ignored

The 'Reporter' , a Dutch television programme, has broadcast claims that the actual euthanasia rate in the Netherlands is higher than officially reported because many doctors find the reporting requirements too time-consuming. The programme asserted that many administer lethal doses of morphine on the pretext that they are intended to control pain, or sedate patients and let them die of dehydration and starvation.

25 February, 2003
Slovakia and Vatican negotiating protection of conscience protocol

A new document being drafted by the Vatican and Slovakia will acknowledge that, for reasons of conscience, Slovakians are free to refuse to carry out obligations that the state would otherwise impose. The document will include reference to conscientious objection to military service, parental authority to withdraw their children from sex-education classes, recognition of Sunday observance, and protection for doctors who refuse to perform abortions.

23 February, 2003
Treatment and care in advance directives

Hammersmith Hospitals Trust in London is asking patients to provide advance directives about care and treatment should they develop diseases like advanced dementia or cancer, or problems like confinement to bed after a stroke or double incontinence. The forms include reference not only to ordinary treatment for illness, but to artificial nutrition and hydration. The provision of nourishment is looked upon by many conscientious objectors as basic care, not treatment, despite legal rulings to the contrary. Conflicts may arise if health care workers are required to starve and dehydrate patients in conformity with the directives sought by the Trust.

21 February, 2003
Hawaiian bill threatens freedom of conscience

Hawaiian Senate Bill 658 would require all hospitals to provide the potentially abortifacient morning-after pill to rape complainants. The bill provides fines of $5000 each time a hospitals decline to provide the drugs. After a second violation, the state will revoke the hospital's certificate of authority. The bill appears similar to one just passed in New Mexico. (See previous report)

Continued pressure for euthanasia in United Kingdom

Lord Joel Joffe has put forward the Assisted Dying Bill, which would permit people suffering from terminal or serious and incurable illnesses to obtain 'medical assistance to die'. The fill is not thought likely to become law.
[BBC] The continuing efforts of pro-euthanasia advocates ought to alert health care professionals to the importance of solidarity in defending freedom of conscience. Those who demand that colleagues be made to facilitate or participate in morally controversial procedures should realize that they themselves could become victims of their own policy objectives.

19 February, 2003
Preliminary statistics indicate increase in assisted suicide in Oregon

Compassion in Dying, an assisted suicide lobby group in Oregon, reports that 30 of their clients killed themselves in 2002, compared to 17 in 2001. The group believes that the number amounts to about 80 percent of the assisted suicide deaths in the state, where the practice is legal. Official statistics will be released next month. The executive director of the group believes that publicity about a lawsuit intended to hamstring the law actually increased interest in assisted suicide. He also suggested that physicians had become more comfortable with it. Conflicts of conscience are more likely to arise as the practice becomes more common. [For another view of the situation in Oregon, see Assisted Suicide: What Role for Nurses?] An assisted suicide bill is now before the Arizona state legislature.

18 February, 2003
Importance of backing from religious leaders emphasized

Australian Labour Party member John Hogg, deputy president of the Senate in Queensland, has asked Catholic Church leaders to become "more aggressive" in public support of Catholic teaching. He complained that Catholic politicians who defend Church teaching are often left to fend for themselves when Church authorities fail to support them, especially when they are attacked by nominally Catholic groups opposed to Catholic teaching. [Zenit interview] Conscientious objectors not infrequently encounter the same problem, which is not unique to the Catholic Church.

Lesbian sues Christian doctor for refusing insemination

An obstetrician who refused to perform artificial insemination on a lesbian patient is before the 4th District California Court of Appeal in San Diego defending herself against a civil suit. The doctor, a Christian, offered to provide fertility treatments and to care for her after she became pregnant, but would not provide artificial insemination because to inseminate a homosexual would conflict with her religious beliefs. For 11 months the doctor provided drug and hormone therapies as the patient tried self-insemination with sperm from a sperm bank. The obstetrician also performed diagnostic surgery on the patient to determine her suitability for artificial insemination, and referred her to another doctor to perform the procedure. However, the obstetrician and her colleagues declined to have the insemination occur in their clinic. [News report]

Wisconsin sees support, attacks on freedom of conscience

Senate Bill 21, a protection of conscience bill for pharmacists, has been introduced in Wisconsin. It is reported to have broad support in both houses. Advocates for freedom of conscience in Wisconsin request support for SB 21 and opposition to LRB-1983/1 and LRB-1984/1, two bills that would force hospitals to provide the potentially abortifacient morning-after pill to rape complainants.

17 February, 2003
Anti-Muslim bias alleged in British medical schools

Christopher McManus, Professor of Psychology and Medical Education at University College London, has produced research that suggests that applicants to medical schools from ethnic minorities have less than half the chance of acceptance as whites. Even so, the proportion of medical students from minorities has risen from 10 to 33 per cent over the last twenty years, and it is now being suggested that medical schools are restricting the admission of Muslim applicants. The restriction is said to result from the refusal of Muslims to participate in courses that are contrary to their faith. Many, for example, will not perform abortions. An executive member of the Muslim Doctors' and Dentists' Association also identified artificial reproductive procedures and euthanasia as contentious issues.[The Times]

13 February, 2003
Virginia Senate committee kills protection of conscience measure

House Bill 1741, passed by the House in January, has been killed by a committee of the state senate.

12 February, 2003
Dubious survey suggests UK nurses favour assisted suicide

Half of 1,000 nurses in the United Kingdom surveyed by Nursing Times magazine are reported to believe that assisted suicide should be legalized; 1 in 20 "believe" that their colleagues are already involved in euthanasia or assisted suicide. However, the wording of the statement yielding the 1 in 20 result was ambiguous. "Health professionals already quietly help patients to die" does not specify that the "help" provided is, in fact, deliberate killing, nor does it indicate the origin of the respondent's "belief". The result is further complicated by responses suggesting confusion about the moral significance of providing a last dose of morphine, or an increasing frequency of doses, intended to relieve pain but not to kill. The Royal College of Nursing noted that the survey sample was relatively small, and reiterated support for better palliative care rather than legalization of euthanasia. [See Assisted Suicide: What Role for Nurses?; Consensus Guidelines on Analgesia and Sedation in Dying Intensive Care Unit Patients ]

11 February, 2003
Attacks on freedom of conscience in New Mexico and New York

House Bill 119, passed by New Mexico's House of Representatives, would force all hospitals in New Mexico to offer the potentially abortifcacient morning-after pill to rape complainants. It now goes to the state Senate. As a form of preamble to the main text of the statute, the bill offers a series of purported "findings", including the statement, "Emergency contraception cannot and does not cause abortion." It appears that this was included in order to circumvent the state's protection of conscience statute, which prevents health care workers from being forced to participate in abortions.

The bill demands that hospitals not only counsel rape complainants about the use of the morning-after pill, but also provide the potentially abortifacient pill upon request. A hospital that does not comply may be fined $5,000.00 for each complainant who is not given information and/or the pills, and $5,000.00 for each month that it provides emergency services without having trained its personnel to impart "medically and factually accurate and objective information" about the drug. After a second fine, the hospital's licence may be revoked. There is no exemption for denominational hospitals or institutions founded upon principles that preclude the provision of potentially abortifacient drugs.

The state Assembly in New York has passed a similar bill. Bill A19 demands that all hospitals provide the 'morning-after pill' upon request by a rape complainant, as well as information that has been 'approved' by a state official. The latter requirement is even more restrictive than the New Mexican law, which at least requires that the information provided be medically and factually accurate. There is no provision for conscientious objection. The bill has now been referred to the state Senate. It is possible that hospitals may defend themselves by relying upon New York's Civil Rights Law, but the application of the saving provisions of that statute depends upon judicial interpretation and is far from certain.

7 February, 2003
Canada must pay for sex change operations

Madam Justice Carolyn Layden-Stevenson of the Federal Court of Canada has ordered Correctional Services Canada to pay for sex change operations that 'medical opinion' deems to be an "essential service for a particular inmate." Her ruling was apparently influenced by the fact that such operations are covered by the state medicare system in most provinces. The inmate who initiated the action was a man convicted for the murder of a transvestite associate. The notion that such surgery could be considered an "essential medical service" may prove to be a troubling precedent if it is applied in cases involving conscientious objection. [National Post]

5 February, 2003
Pope reminds Catholic health care workers of duty to form conscience

Pope John Paul II's message for the World Day of the Sick included a reminder that "Catholics working in the field of health care have the urgent task of doing all they can to defend life when it is most seriously threatened and to act with a conscience correctly formed according to the teaching of the Church."


31 January, 2003
Umbilical cord yields more stem cells

Kansas State University has found that Wharton's Jelly, a matrix within the umbilical cord, can provide a ready supply of stem cells for research without the ethical concerns associated with destroying embryos to obtain them. The cells obtained from Wharton's Jelly can be propogated for over a year, frozen, and made to express foreign proteins. They can also be induced to form nerve cells. [Study] The report is one of many that indicate that conflicts of conscience among researchers can readily be avoided by using stem cells from non-controversial sources.

Joint declaration against abortion

Plans to widen the grounds for abortion in Indonesia have been opposed in a joint declaration signed by Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu and Protestant religious leaders. The statement was issued after a meeting of the leaders at Jakarta's Istiqlal Mosque. It indicates that, without exemptions for conscientious objection, legalization will lead to conflicts of conscience among the adherents of these religions who are health care workers. [UCAN]

30 January, 2003
Aborted infants provide eye tissue

A team at the Doheny Eye Institute in Los Angeles, California, which transplanted tissue from the retinas of aborted infants into four patients, noted improvement in two of them. At least one expert has suggested that more common eye ailments might be treated in the same way. Use of tissue obtained through abortion can give rise to conscientious objection. The likelihood of such conflict increases when experiments of this kind raise expectations that such tissue may or should be used.

Canadian doctor ordered to pay $325,000 for 'wrongful birth'

A wrongful birth case in Vancouver, B.C. that has attracted considerable criticism did not deal with the issue of conscientious objection, nor did it concern a physician who could be described as 'pro-life'. There was no evidence that the physician generally discouraged patients from having amniocentesis, nor does the judge's summary of the evidence suggest that he objected to abortion. The case turned on a conversation between a physician and a pregnant patient described as " a sophisticated and experienced businesswoman woman," who told him that she wanted to have a "perfect baby."

He testified that he had told the patient that she should seriously consider having an abortion if amniocentesis revealed an abnormality, but she responded that she would not consider having one. In addition, he asserted that the patient's travel plans complicated arrangements for the test and followup. The physician claimed that he would have arranged for the test if it had not been "too late."

The trial judge rejected the doctor's testimony that the patient said she would not have an abortion. The judge concluded that the physician had added "self-serving notes" to his clinical record after the fact "in order to bolster his case" once he became aware of the possibility of the suit against him. He ruled that the physician ought to have expedited the test, and that had he made the attempt to do so he probably would have been successful.

The finding against the physician was that his failure to arrange for an amniocentesis "fell below the accepted standard of care and was negligent." The result of this negligence was the birth of a child with Down Syndrome, who would have been aborted had the condition been detected by the test. However, the judge ruled that the parents were also negligent, assessing their contribution to the outcome at 50%. Damages assessed against the physician mainly reflected an assessment of costs that would be incurred by the parents during their lifetimes to reasonably "promote the mental and physical health" of the child. The judge calculated the amount at $193,771 (USD). The judgement is of concern from the perspective of freedom of conscience in health care because it indicates that eugenic practices are now considered a legally enforceable 'standard of care'.

Abortion statistics and conscientious objection

A recent Alan Guttmacher Institute study notes that almost one quarter of hospitals providing abortions performed fewer than six abortions. The study's authors explain that they "were most likely performing abortions only in cases of fetal anomaly or serious risk to the woman's life or health". Even at face value, this is a tacit admission that refusal to provide abortions for reasons of conscience could not be said to present a threat to women's health. Although the number of abortion providers declined, the decline was slightly lower than that recorded between 1992 and 1996. This does not suggest a catastrophic reduction sometimes claimed by those who oppose freedom of conscience in health care.

The study also reported that 1,819 physicians performed at least one abortion in 2000 - a decrease of 11% since 1996. An article by Sydney Smith, a family physician, notes that most of these providers were probably obstetrician-gynecologists, and would amount to only about 5% of the total number of obstetricians in the United States. Smith suggests that personal convictions rather than external constraints are responsible for the low rate of participation.

29 January, 2003
Virginia committee approves protection of conscience measure

A committee of the Virginia legislature has approved House Bill 1741, that would protect pharmacists, doctors and other health professionals who refuse to dispense abortifacient drugs. The bill was amended to delete a requirement for referral by conscientious objectors.

28 January, 2003
Pressure for euthanasia continues in UK

ITV1, a British national television channel, has broadcast a programme which followed Reginald Crew on his trip to Switzerland, where he died by assisted suicide. More Britons are believed to be planning similar excursions. Responding to news of Crew's death, Chris Davies, a British Liberal Democrat in the European parliament, now argues for the legalization of euthanasia.

An anonymous person has contacted a London newspaper and claimed to be a Scottish doctor who has assisted eight terminally ill patients to commit suicide. He also asserted that six other physicians had told him that they had also assisted in causing the deaths of patients. The chairman of the UK's Voluntary Euthanasia Society, Dr Michael Irwin, a former general practitioner, maintains that physicians contribute to a third of all deaths in Britain, and congratulated those whom he said had administered lethal injections. The VES conducted an internet poll that purported to show that half of Britain's physicians believe that people should be able to obtain medical help to facilitate their deaths, but only a third supported legalization of assisted suicide.

Pro-euthanasia group gets government grant for counselling

The Ontario Ministry of Culture will provide a grant of over $177,000.00 to the pro-euthanasia group 'Dying with Dignity' to develop a counselling programme in Toronto. The founder of the group, who claimed to have been present at over 350 suicides, killed herself in 1999. Her book, A Gentle Death, is advertised on the group website. The grant was approved by the Trillium Foundation, which is an agency of the ministry. Approval of such initiatives from government agencies is likely to lead to normalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, generating pressure for legalization.

27 January, 2003
Chinese scientist claims to have cloned humans

Lu Guangxiu, who works at a laboratory in Changsha, Hunan province, claims to have cloned more than 80 human embryos. Four had been allowed to develop to the stage when they could have been implanted in a womb. [Sunday Times, 26 January]

24 January, 2003
Swiss situation clarified

A report in the Medical Post dated 24 July, 2002, alleged that the new Swiss abortion law would force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. A letter to the Project from the Swiss Embassy in Canada, now confirmed as "99% true" by a spokesman for the Swiss Conference of Catholic Bishops, confirms that this is not the case. The letter states that "there are no more hospitals existing in Switzerland that are based on a catholic foundation; all of them are now managed by secular directors. There are, of course, medical staff with religious inclinations. . . their number, however, is constantly declining. The only remaining indication today of some hospitals' former catholic orientation are their names such as St. Anna . . . there is no more hospital in Switzerland that would truly qualify for the adjective 'catholic'. . .". (Project letter to The Medical Post)

Eugenic screening recommended in Germany

Germany's National Committee on Ethics has approved pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) h to screen embryos for genetic defects. The committee included limitations that would limit the destruction of embryos to those that would be aborted under the current rules for eugenic abortions. Making eugenic screening a standard practice can create problems for those who have moral objections to the procedure.

20 January, 2003
Resistance to performing late term abortions condemned

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), England's largest private abortion provider, has criticized Scots medical professionals who decline to provide late term abortions. BPAS chief executive Ian Jones claimed that women in Scotland usually travel to England for abortions after 15 weeks' gestation. The Sunday Herald report quotes Jones as saying, "if these doctors do not want to treat women for a late abortion then we do not want them treating women." BPAS plans to open an abortion clinic at a Scots National Health Service hospital.

18 January, 2003
Freedom of conscience based on human dignity, not religious or cultural equality

The Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Church has issued an important document tht focuses on the application of Catholic belief in political life. Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life challenges widespread attitude that would see "a large number of citizens, Catholics among them, are asked not to base their contribution to society and political life - through the legitimate means available to everyone in a democracy - on their particular understanding of the human person and the common good."

West Virginia hospital acknowledges philosophical and religious views

The board of the United Hospital Center (UHC) in Clarksburg,West Virginia, which voted last month to permit eugenic abortions, has reversed its decision as a result of complaints from the public. The hospital's president explained that the board had decided to "respect the community's values . . . from a religious and philosophical standpoint." [Clarksburg Exponent Telegram, 15 January, 2003]

15 January, 2003
One-child policy to continue in China

The Standard, China's business newspaper, reports that the government intends to continue the one-child policy. The policy has resulted in forced abortions and infanticide and the coercion of some health care workers. [See Chinese health care workers and the 'one-child' policy]

Survey indicates "partial birth" abortions have tripled

When the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) survey concerning partial birth abortion was released in 1996, there were questions about the accuracy of its claim that about 650 procedures were performed annually in the US. Two years later a spokesman for the Institute stated that he was "pretty sure" the number was between 500 and 1,000. A survey just released by the Institute, using the same method, places the number at 2,200. If the survey is accurate, the increase suggests a greater likelihood that health care workers who object to the procedure may come under pressure to participate in it.

14 January, 2003
Freedom of conscience respected by New Brunswick College of Physicians

In November, 2002, the New Brunswick College of Physicians and Surgeons published a practice comment that acknowledges that doctors do not have to participate in procedures that they find morally objectionable. More important, the comment also acknowledges that they do not have to refer a patient to another physician. In a bulletin a year earlier, the College requested feedback on the question of whether or not a greater onus ought to be placed on conscientious objectors to facilitate morally controversial procedures.

The comment directs physicians to advise patients when their recommendations or practices are influenced by their moral judgement, so that patients are aware of why a physician is declining to provide a requested service or treatment. It identifies referral or the provision of information about alternative means of access as "preferred" but not obligatory practices. The College Registrar, Dr. Ed Schollenberg, explained that the comment is carefully worded because the subject is inescapably controversial. The College wishes to assist physicians in providing care to patients while respecting their own moral integrity.

The Project was among those who responded to the College request for feedback, and also contributed a letter to the editor on the subject following media reports on the bulletin.

Malaysian Muslim Council illustrates difficulty for religious believers

A declaration by the Muslim National Fatwa Council of Malaysia illustrates how different views within a religious group may make it more difficult for those associated with the group to explain the basis for their religious objection to morally controversial procedures. The Council agreed that cloning of human embryos was acceptable as long as the embryo is destroyed before it reaches 120 days of age; it held that abortion was morally acceptable during the same period. Such opinions are not universally shared among Muslims. (See, for example, Islamic Medical Ethics: Some Questions and Concerns. Such differences of opinion also exist among other religious denominations, and are sometimes cited as a reason for disregarding religious conviction as a legitimate basis for conscientious objection.

7 January, 2003
Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons accommodates Christian physician

The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons has accepted a suggestion from Dr. Stephen Dawson that has resolved complaints lodged against him. Dr. Dawson, a Christian physician who practises in Barrie, Ontario, was charged for professional misconduct because he refused to prescribe birth control pills to four unmarried women.

Dr. Dawson now posts a policy statement in his waiting room that includes a statement that he will not prescribe birth control pills to unmarried women nor Viagra to unmarried men, nor will he arrange for abortions. He will not offer further information about his religious convictions except in response to queries from patients.

The resolution reflects the fact that there were two different issues at play in the case: the exercise of freedom of conscience, and the manner in which it was exercised. College spokesman Kathryn Clarke explained that the focus of the College was on the latter. "We simply wish to be assured that when he explains to his patientswhy he does not provide these services that he does so in a professional and respectful manner."

Dr. John Williams, director of ethics for the Canadian Medical Association, confirmed that physicians are not obliged "to do something that they feel is wrong", and do not have to refer patients in such cases. Dr. Williams made a similar statement in conversation with the Project Administrator in the spring of 2000. [CMAJ]

[For details of the case, see the story from The Barrie Examiner, and letters to the editor from the Project to The Barrie Examiner and the National Post. Comments from the Christian Medical and Dental Society and the Catholic Civil Rights League (Canada) appear in a Lifesite News story. Journalist Michael Coren offers a Real Audio commentary. The Project also responded to an editorial broadcast by the CBC criticizing Dawson; the CBC did not broadcast the Project response.]

Mexican National Human Rights Commission denounces coercive measures

The National Population Council of Mexico, which is supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), is reported to have set national quotas for "family planning" that are to be met by regional hospitals and local family planning teams. The National Human Rights Commission has protested that the programme involves threats, bribes, and the imposition of procedures and drugs without the informed consent of the patients. In such circumstances there is reason to be concerned that health care worker who object to morally controversial procedures will also be victimized.

6 January, 2003
Money offered to clinics to find 'spare embryos'

The Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom is attempting to increase the number of embryos donated for destructive research. It is giving money to some IVF clinics so that they can find ways to encourage donation, perhaps by hiring employees to "aid consenting potential donors" in deciding to donate their embryonic offspring.

4 January, 2003
National health insurance supports in vitro fertilization in Israel

500 human embryos at the Rabin Medical Centre - Hasharon Campus in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv died when a container in which they were stored was accidentally left unsealed. The news report stated that every hospital in Israel has an IVF unit, and that the treatment is offered free as part of the national health insurance scheme. State supported procedures, particularly on this scale, may create a dynamic of expectation that all health care workers will co-operate with what has become a matter of public policy. Making no claims with respect to the situation in Israel, this can generate considerable opposition to conscientious objection within the medical profession.

1 January, 2003
Utah Supreme Court rejects wrongful birth lawsuits

Utah's Wrongful Life Act was passed in 1983 to prevent 'wrongful birth' or 'wrongful life' lawsuits. It prevents physicians from being sued by a woman who claims that she would have had an abortion had she known that her child was going to suffer from some form of birth defect. Parents of a Down Syndrome child sued the University of Utah Medical Center because of what they claimed were faulty prenatal tests. The majority of the court ruled that that act protects health care professionals who withhold information, but that this does not create a substantial obstacle for a woman who might want to obtain an abortion. The court held that an aggrieved party could pursue other forms of action, such as breach of contract. Plaintiffs in breach of contract cases are limited to collecting for actual financial losses, whereas the case before the court included a claim for punitive damages.

It appears that parents in Utah who might want to abort a child for eugenic reasons can seek a physician who explicitly agrees with their outlook, thus ensuring that they will be given the information they desire. If the information proves to be inaccurate, they cannot sue for wrongful birth or wrongful life, but can sue for breach of contract. Since eugenic screening is not 100% accurate, it would presumably be necessary to prove that the physician was negligent or incompetent in order to succeed in an action against him.

The effect of the Act, as applied in this case, is to make wrongful birth and wrongful life suits contrary to public policy in Utah, while preserving the remedy of breach of contract. This ensures the protection of health care professionals who do not want to participate in eugenic screening, but it does not prevent parents who have made explicit eugenic screening agreements with health care professionals from holding them to account.