Project Logo

Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude
Subscribe to me on YouTube

September-December, 2003


29 December, 2003
Thoughts on euthanasia in the UK

Debate about legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide continues in Britain. The Evening Gazette quotes member of parliament Dr. Marjorie Mowlam, a former cabinet minister, as recommending that Britain should "look at voluntary euthanasia." Baroness Warnock has written in support of Lord Joffe's bill that would legalize such procedures. Dr Michael Irwin, chairman of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, resigned after being arrested for conspiracy in connection with the death of a euthanasia campaigner on the Isle of Man. The doctor attended the patient with a large number of sleeping pills, but says that the man died without taking them. The problem that legalization would pose for conscientious objectors within the medical profession does not appear to be attracting attention.

Meanwhile a 43 year old Lancaster man is going to court to ensure that he is protected from doctors who might stop his nutrition and hydration. Leslie Burke suffers from a degenerative brain disease, and worries that General Medical Council (GMC) rules will be used to justify stopping his food and fluids at a later stage in his illness. He argues that the current GMC rules do not require physicians to obtain court approval before doing so.

17 December, 2003
Creative solution to accommodation of conscientious objectors

The Abortion Supervisory Committee in New Zealand has reported that many health care professionals in the country do not wish to perform abortion. This was apparently revealed in a report from the Committee in December, 2002. The Committee's latest report, published this month, states that this has made it necessary to fly abortionists into the country. This demonstrates that accommodation of conscientious objectors is possible, if there is sufficient imagination and political will.

12 December, 2003
Protection of conscience bill re-introduced in U.S. Congress

Bills are now before both houses of congress in the United States that would prohibit governmental discrimination against health care providers who decline to be involved in abortion. The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) is bill HR3664 in the House of Representatives and SB1397 in the Senate. [Fact sheets]

5 December, 2003
Doctors' group urges new attitude toward euthanasia

In a development that appears to underline the need for protection of conscience legislation, the Scientific Organization for Flemish General Practitioners has issued a statement to the effect that it will work with groups like "Life's End Information Forum" to assist Belgian doctors whose patients are demanding euthanasia under Belgian law. The legalization of euthanasia in Belgium, the group says, "demands a change in attitude from many doctors." 203 patients have been killed by euthanasia since September, 2003, when euthanasia was legalized. [Expatica]

Strategy for Center for Reproductive Rights may threaten freedom of conscience worldwide

Citing internal memos from the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute reports that the Center's long-term plan is to establish state-financed abortion on demand, as well as other "sexual rights", as human rights that will be enforced by international tribunals. The organization, proceeding by what it describes as "stealth", will attempt to have existing international agreements interpreted in this fashion, and also plans to develop "soft norms" in the form of customary rules that acknowledge such 'rights' as "reproductive autonomy" - for children as well as adults. (See Secret Memos Reveal Worldwide Pro-Abortion Legal Strategy) It appears that an example of a "soft norm" is the policy of the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia against freedom of conscience for pharmacists. (See Project Report 2001-01).

4 December, 2003
Bioethics professor advocates sale of organs

Dr John Harris, professor of bio-ethics at Manchester University, has told the British Medical Association that living donors should be able to sell their organs. The suggestion was challenged by Dr Jacqueline Laing, senior lecturer in the department of law at London Metropolitan University, and contradicts a ruling by Britain's General Medical Council ( See British doctor suspended six months for encouraging organ trade). To put the suggestion into practice would clearly create conflicts of conscience for many health care workers.

Religious objections undermined by priests

"Undercover" Sunday Times reporters who purported to be parents of large families approached fourteen Catholic priests to ask for advice about using artificial contraception. Eight of the fourteen priests contradicted Catholic teaching by advising them that they could do so. The Times exercise clearly illustrates the problem faced by health care workers whose religious objections to certain procedures or drugs are undercut by demands from co-religionists supported by their own religious authorities. [Times]

2 December, 2003
Nurse may be reinstated

A South African nurse will be able to apply for work if she succeeds in re-registering as a nurse. She was was struck off the nurses' register and banned from practice for12 months because she she was found to have shouted at women having abortions, leaving them to deliver their own dead babies and clean up the results. She states that at the time of the incidents she was suffering from claims that severe work stress that resulted in nightmares and emotional agony. Reports have not indicated whether or not the nurse was compelled to participate in procedures to which she objected for reasons of conscience. (See South African nurse convicted)

1 December, 2003
Concern voiced re: European moral imperialism

Bishop Joe Duffy, head of the Catholic hierarchy's Committee on European Affairs, commenting upon embryo research proposals being considered in Europe, added remarks to the effect that performance of abortions by third world Catholic hospitals should not be a condition for funding from the European Union.


29 November, 2003
American Civil Liberties Union opposes freedom of conscience for religious institutions, affiliates

The Supreme Court of California will hear arguments against a state law that requires employee prescription drug plans to include contraceptive coverage, even if the employer is a religious entity that objects to contraception for moral reasons. Such laws also exist in Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont and Washington. The issue is significant for hospitals and charities that adhere to the teaching of the Catholic Church, which proscribes contraception as sinful. The law is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union. [Las Vegas Sun]

29 November, 2003 College of Pharmacists still opposed to freedom of conscience

The Annual General Meeting of the BC College of Pharmacists meeting in Burnaby, British Columbia, again rejected a motion in support of freedom of conscience. The motion was defeated 33-9. (Address to College Council and Pharmacists, AGM, College of Pharmacists of B.C.). For background on the situation in British Columbia, see "Autonomy", "Justice"and the Legal Requirement to Accommodate; In Defence of the New Heretics; Project Report 2001-01

28 November, 2003
Euthanasia interest continues in the United Kingdom

A poll conducted by Nursing Times magazine is being cited by euthanasia advocates as evidence favouring legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Two thirds of the 2,700 respondents said that they wanted "voluntary euthanasia" legalized. 40% reported that they had administered pain relief to patients, knowing that the drugs could hasten death. However, the term "voluntary euthanasia" was defined to include withdrawal of life support, which does not always constitute euthanasia. Similarly, the possibility that life may be shortened by the use of pain-killing drugs does not preclude their use when the intention is not to kill the patient but to relieve suffering. The failure to make these distinctions makes it difficult to assess of the results of the survey. It is clear that one third of the nurses surveyed opposed euthanasia, a position supported by the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association. (British Medical Association rejects assisted suicide). This indicates that legalization of the procedure would generate significant ethical conflicts among health care workers.[BBC]

It appears that the government's controversial draft Mental Incapacity Bill will not be introduced during this parliamentary session. However, the House of Lords Liaison Committee has recommended that a committee study "assisted dying", a euphemism for assisted suicide. The news was welcomed by Lord Joffe, who believes that the public is becoming more open to assisted suicide as a result of the case of Diane Pretty. ( Push for euthanasia continues in United Kingdom ;BBC reports "British woman denied right to die")

27 November, 2003
Abortion Legalized in St. Lucia

Conflicts of conscience among health care workers can be expected in St. Lucia. The procedure was legalized a week after a parliamentary debate on the subject was cancelled due to protests that included a petition signed by 9.000 of the 160,000 island residents. The new law will allow abortion in cases of rape, incest and to protect the "health" of the mother.

26 November, 2003
Euthanasia in Europe

The Federal Health Ministry of Belgium reports that 203 people were killed by euthanasia by September, 2003, a year after the procedure was legalized.[Expatica]

A Swiss assisted suicide clinic run by Dignitas is being investigated in connection with the deaths of a Frenchman and British couple. The Frenchman had Alzheimers, which brings into question the possibility of informed consent, while the British citizens were not terminally ill. A double suicide of French twins suffering from schizophrenia is also under investigation.

In France, a doctor and nurse are suspects in the death of a terminally ill cancer patient who was killed by lethal injection.

The news items seem to indicate continuing interest in the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, and the cases under investigation are likely to be cited as reasons for doing so.

21 November, 2003
Proposal for euthanasia in Lagos

Olubunmi Cardinal Okogie of Lagos has criticized a proposal made by a judge in the country that the National Assembly should consider legalizing euthanasia. Legalization of the procedure would have serious implications for conscientious objectors among health care workers.

19 November, 2003
In vitro research causes protests in Kenya

Catholic, Protestant and Muslim leaders in Kenya have condemned work by three scientists who are trying to develop low-cost in vitro fertilization techniques. The denunciation illustrates the potential for conflicts of conscience for Kenyan health care workers whose views are represented by the religious spokesmen.

18 November, 2003
Mental incapacity bill controversy continues in UK

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children is urging Britons to contact their members of parliament to prevent the introduction of the government's draft Mental Incapacity Bill into parliament. On the other hand several organizations, including the Alzheimers Society, Down's Syndrome Association and Mental Health Foundation are supporting the bill. Critics of the bill charge that it will allow euthanasia by withdrawal of nourishment and fluids from incapacitated patients, which would place objecting health care workers in a difficult position. [See Unprecedented number of letters received by parliamentary committee]

Freedom of conscience for pharmacists in US and UK under attack

A chemist (pharmacist) in Bridgnorth, England, may face discipline because she refused to dispense the morning-after pill for religious reasons. Despite the fact the the woman demanding the pill was able to obtain it from another pharmacy on the same street, she has filed a complaint for the purpose of suppressing freedom of professionals to practice according to their religious beliefs. [Shropshire Star]. Meanwhile, a similar attack on freedom of conscience for pharmacists is underway in Wisconsin, USA. Pharmacist Neil Noeson refused to dispense birth control to a woman at a K Mart Pharmacy in Wisconsin in the summer of 2002, and now faces a disciplinary trial in Madison, Wis. on 18 December, 2003; the Wisconsin Pharmacy Board is attempting to revoke his licence. (Police Used to Intimidate Objecting Pharmacist.

Euthanasia advocate dead, wife arrested

Patrick Kneen, a euthanasia/assisted suicide advocate who helped convince the Isle of Man parliament to consider legalizing assisted suicide, is reported to have died a month ago of prostate cancer. However his widow has now been arrested in connection with his death, apparently as a result of a letter she sent to a local newspaper. Continuing pressure for legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia is a source of concern for health care workers who do not want to be compelled to participate in such procedures.

8 November, 2003
Wisconsin Attorney General moves against freedom of conscience

In a non-binding opinion, the Attorney General of Wisconsin has asserted that health insurance plans that cover prescription drugs must also include coverage for contraception. Democrats in the legislature have been attempting to force such coverage even upon those who would object to such coverage for reasons of conscience.

4 November, 2003
Alberta pharmacist finally reaches agreement

After three years of uncertainty, Maria Bizecki, a Christian pharmacist in Calgary, Alberta has finally received confirmation that the Alberta College of Pharmacists will accept the agreement she has negotiated with her employer that will allow her to refuse to dispense drugs which she declines to dispense for reasons of conscience. She was suspended by her employer for over a year and incurred substantial legal bills. (See Alberta Pharmacist Vindicated for Pro-Life Stand)


29 October, 2003
 Protection from 'wrongful birth' and 'wrongful life' lawsuits proposed in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Senate Judiciary, Corrections and Privacy Committee has heard testimony urging legislators to support a statutory ban on "wrongful birth" and "wrongful life" lawsuits. Such suits are brought by parents who sue doctors should a child be born with a disability, and have a considerable impact on physicians who are morally opposed to eugenic practices.

28 October, 2003
Canadian Assisted Human Reproduction Act passes Commons

A bill that has been criticized for failing to prohibit cloning human embryos for research and for supporting in vitro fertilization has passed the Canadian House of Commons and will proceed to the Senate. It is not certain that the Senate will be able to pass the bill before the end of the parliamentary session. The Project criticized the bill for failing to include any provision for protection of conscience. [See Protection of Conscience Project Submission on the proposed Assisted Human Reproduction Act (Canada)]

27 October, 2003
Model law proposed to prevent starvation, dehydration

The National Right to Life Committee in the United States, responding to the Terri Schiavo case, has drafted a model state law to protect people in similar circumstances. The director of medical ethics for the organization asserted that the Schiavo case is an example of a common practice in American nursing homes and hospitals, which implies that conflicts of conscience among health care workers on this issue may be widespread.

Anti-Muslim discrimination identified in England

Dr Jafer Qureshi, a leading Muslim doctor, told a London conference that Muslims and medical students are being discriminated against because of their pro-life views. He said that some cases may be taken to the Commission for Racial Equality.

26 October, 2003
Judge in Schiavo case said to be mistaken

Three doctors, including Nobel prize nominee William Hammesfahr, insist that Judge George Greer was mistaken in ordering the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. Hammesfahr is a neurologist and a national expert on persistent vegetative states. Their opinions contrast sharply with those of Mrs. Schiavo's former physician, illustrating the potential for ethical conflicts among team members providing treatment or care for such patients.

23 October, 2003
Resistance to restoration of nourishment

Terri Schiavo was removed from Woodside Hospice because staff were unwilling to obey the governor's order to reinsert her feeding tube. Her own doctor resigned from the case, apparently unwilling to do so, and two doctors who came to the hospice for that purpose were refused entry. Mrs. Schiavo was taken to another hospital, where fear of being sued by her husband's lawyers delayed re-instatement of feeding by hospital staff. They eventually began intravenous nourishment and rehydration, and she was later returned to the Woodside Hospice. A guardian with limited legal responsibilities has been appointed for her by a court, but her husband, who has been trying to have her nourishment cut off, continues to be legally responsible for her care. These incidents illustrate not only different approaches to conscientious judgement, but the impact of institutional policy and law on ethical decision making.

22 October, 2003
Universal eugenic screening urged in Britain

Britain's National Institute for Clinical Excellence has recommended universal screening of infants in utero for Downs syndrome, with a view to aborting those identified.

21 October, 2003
Retired judge, former governor on assisted suicide 'advisory committee' in Vermont

The Vermont chapter of End-of-Life Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society) has established an 'advisory committee' on assisted suicide that includes a retired federal judge, two former state governors and a former lieutenant governor. The organization has asked for donations to support lobbying for a bill now before the state legislature. The Vermont Medical Society will survey its members by mail before deciding its position on physician assisted suicide.

20 October, 2003
Emergency bill passed in Florida to prevent starvation, dehydration

On 20 October, 2003, the Florida House of Representatives, called into emergency session, passed "Terri's Law," which orders a halt to all deaths being caused by dehydration and starvation in Florida. Acting under the authority of new legislation, Florida Governor Jeb Bush ordered the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube.

19 October, 2003
Schiavo denied asylum and Holy Communion

Despite having assurance from Canadian doctors and nurses who volunteered to provide care, Canadian Immigration Minister Dennis Coderre refused to grant Terri Schiavo asylum in Canada. She is reported to have reacted with joy when Monsignor Thaddeus Malinowski arrived, turning in her chair to greet him. Malinowski is a Catholic priest who has visited Schiavo weekly for over three years. However, during the sacrament of anointing (known to non-Cathoics as the 'last rites') he was forbidden to give her a quarter of a wafer of Holy Communion ( a full wafer is about the size of a quarter), even soaked in water. He was told police would use force to prevent him from doing so. Schiavo's husband has already ordered her cremation immediately following her death, despite her family's request for an autopsy to examine injuries that had been sustained after her paralysis. These incidents highlight some of the practical issues that can generate conflicts of conscience for health care workers involved.

15 October, 2003
Feeding tube removed, starvation watch begins

Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed in accordance with an order from Circuit Court Judge George Greer of Florida. A demonstration/vigil is in progress outside the hospice where Schiavo is expected to die. The Canadian Immigration Minister has been approached by Human Life Matters, an advocacy group for disabled persons, and asked to grant Schiavo temporary asylum in Canada. The request is largely symbolic, because Schiavo's legal guardian, her husband, is the one who has obtained the court order to have her feeding tube withdrawn.

Schiavo's family, which has been trying to prevent her from being starved and dehydrated to death, has released a videotape made in August, 2001. The tape demonstrates that she is not in a "persistent vegetative state". Lawyers for her husband, who obtained the order for removal of the tube, had threatened to prevent the family from seeing her without their supervision if they released the tape. They have now made good the threat.

The case is generating widespread interest in the ethics of causing death by withdrawal of food and fluids from patients who are not dying. Schreeuw om Leven, President of the Dutch group Cry for Life, noted the similarity of the Schiavo case to that of Mrs. Ineke Stinissen, a comatose patient. Mrs. Stinissen's died of starvation in 1990 after her husband obtained a ruling from a Dutch court that permitted the withdrawal of food and fluids. He described the Stinissen case as one that paved the way for legalization of euthanasia in Holland.

"Global bioethics" proposed by French president

France's President Jacques Chirac has told the general conference of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that the world needs an international convention on bioethics that has the force of international law. He suggested that the UN should begin by making a declaration of basic bioethics principles. UNESCO's Director-General, Koichiro Matsuura, believes that finding universal agreement on such principles would be problematic. This point is illustrated by the fact that Chirac's focus is on scientific research, even as the French justice minister is encouraging discussion about legalizing euthanasia. [See Is Bioethics Ethical?; Which Medical Ethics for the 21st Century?; Establishment Bioethics; The Bioethics Mess]

14 October, 2003
Italian and French politicians differ on euthanasia

The French parliament has created a commission to study legalization of assisted suicide, and the French minister of justice is promoting a debate on euthanasia on his ministry's website. In contrast, the Italian Minister of Health, speaking at a medical conference in Milan, has rejected the legalization of euthanasia and proposals to halt forced-feeding.

13 October, 2003
Clash of opinions in Vermont about assisted suicide

Life Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society), and the Alliance for Ethical Healthcare conducted polls that have yielded completely contradictory results on the issue of legalizing assisted suicide in Vermont. Surveys of doctors in two hospitals showed them to be 58% and 74% opposed to the practice. The state governor does not support a bill, now in the legislature, that would legalize assisted suicide.

10 October, 2003
Cases highlight deaths by starvation, dehydration

An injunction was issued by the English High Court to compel a hospital to provide food and fluids to a 91 year old woman who had been admitted after having suffered a stroke. The family claimed that the woman was being left to die by the hospital. The woman died a few days later. The case is being cited by Dr. Jacqueline Laing as evidence that the government's draft Mental Incapacity Bill would increase the vulnerability of incapacitated patients and prevent family members from intervening to secure care and treatment.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Florida refused to allow patient Terri Schiavo to learn to eat and drink before the court-ordered removal of her feeding tube. 10 organizations concerned with the rights of disabled persons plan to intervene in the case, but the judge's ruling on the issue of letting her learn to eat and drink cannot be appealed.

English scientist wants 'discarded' eggs for research

Dr Daniel Brison of St Mary's hospital, Manchester, wants the law changed so that eggs obtained for in vitro fertilization, but not used, can be used to make human embryos for research purposes. He described opposition to the practice as an "ethical barrier" that has to be 'got over' in order to address a 'shortage' of human embryos available for research. It appears that his suggestion would involve abolishing the requirement for donor consent. Continually 'pushing the ethical envelope' may increase the likelihood of conscientious objections arising among health care workers.

6 October, 2003
Assisted suicide bill likely to be vetoed

The position of the Vermont Medical Society on assisted suicide remains unclear. The Society is to meet on 17-18 October and will likely consider the proposed assisted suicide bill. The Governor of Vermont has indicated that he would veto the bill if it passes.

2 October, 2003
French doctor claims euthanasia probably happens daily

Dr Frederic Chaussoy, who states that he switched off the life support machine of a comatose patient, has claimed that euthanasia is likely a daily occurrence, concealed by a "tradition of hypocrisy" that encourages doctors to lie about it. The claim that euthanasia is a frequent occurrence is commonly made by euthanasia advocates, but is often supported by reference to practices that are not considered euthanasia, like the withdrawal of burdensome treatment.

Confused euthanasia discussion in Korea

The Korea Times reports that financial pressures and traditions cause many families to take terminally ill patients from hospitals to die at home. The practice is being described by the medical profession as 'passive euthanasia', though it is by no means clear from the report that ordinary treatment or care is being withdrawn. The failure to distinguish between euthanasia and legitimate refusal or withdrawal of burdensome or extraordinary treatment can have the effect of making euthanasia appear to be a normal or acceptable practice, increasing pressure for its legalization, with ensuing complications for conscientious objectors.

'Neutrality' being considered in Vermont

Vermont legislators are now studying three bills in committees. One bans physician-assisted suicide, one legalizes it, and one would establish a commission to provide advice on palliative care and pain management. It is reported that a position of 'neutrality' on physician-assisted suicide is being considered by the Vermont Medical Society. This is a good illustration of the false concept of moral neutrality that is often used to justify suppression of conscientious objection. Faced with two choices - supporting or rejecting assisted suicide or euthanasia - to declare neutrality would be an assertion by the Society that there is no moral difference between killing or not killing the patient; killing the patient would, therefore, be a morally permissible option.