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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude
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January-March, 2005


30 March, 2005
New Wisconsin protection of conscience bill

The Labour Committee of the Wisconsin Assembly heard conflicting testimony regarding Wisconsin Assembly Bill 207, introduced by Representative Jean Hundertmark. A previous bill passed by the legislature was vetoed by the state governnor. R. Alta Charo claimed that the bill would permit health care workers to mislead patients by failing to give information, and complained that objectors would not be compelled to refer patients. Dr. Cynthia Jones-Nosacek, on the other hand, argued that she should not be compelled to refer patients so that they can be killed by withdrawal of nutrition and hydration.

28 March, 2005
'Pro-choice' activists campaign to impose their morality on health care workers

The National Abortion Rights Action League is encouraging people to take 'pledge cards' to local pharmacies and have pharmacists sign them to promise that they will dispense birth control drugs, including those that might act by preventing implantation, thus causing the death of an early embryo. NARAL appears to believe that freedom of choice should be limited to its own supporters.

25 March, 2005
Scientists clash over creation of animal-human hybrids

Professor Chris Higgins, the director of the United Kingdom's Medical Research Council's clinical sciences centre, supports the creation of animal-human hybrids by the injection of genetic materials from human embryos into animal eggs. Dr Calum MacKellar, the director of research of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, rejects the idea. The controversy illustrates the potential for conflicts of conscience among researchers and others involved in reproductive technology.

24 March, 2005
Coercive bill signed in New Jersey

New Jersey Assembly Bill 2698 has been signed by the Acting Governor of the state. It forces all hospitals to provide "medically and factually accurate and objective" information about the potentially abortifacient morning-after pill to sexual assault complainants, and the state plans to provide a tract for this purpose written by the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services, in collaboration with the Director of the Division on Women in the Department of Community Affairs and the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Further, all hospitals will be required to provide the potentially abortifacient morning-after pill to sexual assault complainants upon request. The bill is clearly intended to suppress conscientious objection.

Some reports indicated that the requirement to dispense the drug depends upon a negative pregnancy test, but the bill contains no provision to this effect. This will be of concern to those who object to the drug because it can act to cause the death of the early embryo by preventing implantation. If the tract that will be forced upon the hospitals fails to acknowledge this mechanism of action, a hospital could legally supplement the tract with this information in order to comply with the legal requirement for medical and factual accuracy. For the same reason, a hospital might decline to distribute the tract if it describes both pre-fertilization and post-fertilization effects as 'contraceptive.'

24 March, 2005
Mental Capacity Bill passes House of Lords, with amendments

The British government's controversial Mental Capacity Bill will be returned to the House of Commons for review of amendments proposed by the House of Lords. Concerns that the bill will permit euthanasia have been repeatedly voiced during the progress of the bill through parliament.

16 March, 2005
Late abortion a 'private sector' procedure in the UK

The Independent, a newspaper in the United Kingdom, quotes a consultant obstetrician to the effect that most late term abortions are done in the private sector, not the public health system. Peter Bowen Simpkins observed that "late abortion is not a very pleasant affair. . . Many doctors and nurses don't do abortions at all." [The Independent, 16 March, 2005]. The comment illustrates the importance of protective legislation for conscientious objectors, but also suggests that there is no principled reason to insist that controversial procedures must be performed in public institutions.

14 March, 2005
Muslim pharmacist refuses to dispense morning-after pill

A Muslim pharmacist in the east of London in the United Kingdom declined to dispense the potentially abortifacient morning-after pill for religious reasons. The Sunday Mirror quoted the patient to the effect that the pharmacist should find another job. The response is, unfortunately, typical of what passes for 'tolerance' and 'respect for freedom of religion' in many jurisidictions.

11 March, 2005
Continued pressure for legalization of infant euthanasia in the Netherlands

Physicians Eduard Verhagen and Pieter Sauer of the Groningen University Medical Center continue to advocate the legalization of euthanasia for infants. In an article in the New England Journal of Medicine they assert that only about three of 15 to 20 annual cases of infant euthanasia are reported. Verhagen reviewed 22 cases of infant euthanasia in 1997 and found that none were prosecuted. Verhagen has proposed guidelines for infant euthanasia that doctors can follow without fear of prosecution. [British Medical Journal] If Verhagen's claims are accurate, they demonstrate the potential for conflicts of conscience among health care workers who may be asked to facilitate or to cover up an illegal act.

6 March, 2005
Stanford approves breeding of human/mouse hybrids

The ethics committee of Stanford University has approved a plan to breed mice with brains made from cells from aborted infants. [The Telegraph, 6 March, 2005] The experiment illustrates the potential for conflicts of conscience among researchers.

2 March, 2005
Judge orders 'ethics class' for pharmacist

Administrative Law Judge Colleen Baird has recommended that Wisconsin pharmacist Neil Noesen be made to attend ethics classes because he refused to dispense contraceptives for reasons of conscience, and also refused to refer the patient to another pharmacy. The judge claimed that his action exposed the patient to a danger to her health, welfare or safety in the form of pregnancy. Baird's recommendation is to go to the Wisconsin Pharmacy Examining Board for review and action. [See Establishment Bioethics and Referral: A False Compromise]


17 February, 2005
Attempt to kill premature baby by neglect unsuccessful

26 year old Claire Baldwin, who now works in the Body Shop in Carmarthen, Wales, narrowly escaped death in the Netherlands when she was born prematurely. Her parents were told that she was dead and she was left in a kidney dish in a dirty laundry room to die. Her father discovered her and insisted that she be placed in an incubator, despite resistance and ridicule from nursing staff. [This Is South Wales, 17 February, 2005] Such cases illustrate the potential for conflicts of conscience among health care workers faced with similar situations. [Born alive, left to die (Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.) (1999)[ [Baby left to die at Vancouver General Hospital (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) (1985)]

7 February,2005
Conception and false terminology - "fertilized egg"

A judge in Chicago has ruled that an embryo conceived and accidentally killed in a fertility clinic was a human being whose parents are entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The judge held that the law in Illinois recognizes the existence of a human being after conception occurs. Critics voiced concerns that the ruling, if allowed to stand, will inhibit reproductive technology. The ruling is of interest to conscientious objectors among pharmacists because it illustrates the basis for their concerns about the destruction of human embryos. It also illustrates how public discourse is significantly impacted by the scientifically incorrect term 'fertilized egg.'

4 February, 2005
Bill in Georgia, USA, would protect pharmacists

Sen. Jim Whitehead has proposed a bill to ensure that pharmacists cannot be sued or disciplined for declining to dispense drugs to which they object for reasons of conscience. Whitehead said that he was asked to put forward the legislation by some pharmacists in his district. asked him to push the legislation. The chairman of the Georgia Pharmacy Association, University of Georgia Professor Flynn Warren, stated that pharmacists in Georgia may already refuse to fill prescriptions, but said that they should suggest to a patient how to get it filled elsewhere. [AP Story] Many objectors would find this unsatisfactory. [See Referral: A False Compromise]

6 February, 2005
Assisted suicide bill planned for California

A bill to legalize assisted suicide for mentally competent patients who have six months to live is being drafted in California. State lawmakers and courts have demonstrated marked hostility towards freedom of conscience in health care (US Supreme Court rejects appeal of repressive ruling), so there are grounds for concern that conscientious objectors and objecting denomination health care entities may be compelled to participate in or facilitate the procedure.

4 February, 2005
Ecuadorian bishops identify key issue in use of morning-after pill

In a letter distributed to parishes throughout Ecuador, the Catholic bishops of the country identified the moral issue of concern to them in the use of the morning-after pill. They pointed out that one of the acknowledged ways in which the drug works is to prevent implantation of an early embryo, and stated that causing the death of an embryonic human individual in this way is morally unacceptable. [News item]

Pope directs attention to definition of death

Pope John Paul II has reiterated the support of the Catholic Church for organ transplants, which is conditional upon death having occurred before transplantation takes place. The Pope wrote that "the moment of death for each person consists in the definitive loss of the constitutive unity of body and spirit," a concept that must be tied to some physical reality in order to be applied in practice. The concept of "brain death" has been widely used for this purpose, but practical and philosophical questions remain. [Catholic World News]

3 February, 2005
Arizona committee approves bill

Despite what has been described as a media barrage, a bill that would protect freedom of conscience for pharmacists was approved by a committee of the Arizona House by a vote of 6-3. The executive director of the Arizona Pharmacy Alliance attempted to argued that pharmacists should be forced to refer if they will not dispense, a position opposed by many conscientious objectors. A spokesman for the Arizona Catholic Conference rejected the idea of compulsory referral.

Refusal of Dutch physicians to provide euthanasia being 'investigated'

The Dutch Voluntary End to Life Association (NVVE) is complaining that some Dutch physicians are refusing to facilitate euthanasia requests or delaying their execution. NVVE director Rob Jonquière has complained that many doctors "are looking for excuses not to carry out euthanasia." While figures on the subject are sometimes disputed, government-commissioned research found that there were 9,700 euthanasia requests in 2001, of which 3,800 were carried out. Health care workers in other jurisdictions who have hitherto been unsupportive of protection of conscience laws and policies should take careful note of this development, since the arguments that are being put forward to compel physicians to participate in euthanasia are precisely the same arguments being made to compel objectors to facilitate abortion, contraception and other morally controversial procedures.

Conscientious objectors concerned about flu vaccine

Vaxin, a company in Birmingham, Alabama, plans to use PER C6 in their new flu vaccine. The CEO of the company that created PER C6 has admitted that the cell line originated with tissue from an 18 week infant that was aborted. A group called Children of God for Life has criticized the decision, pointing out that thousands of people protested the use of aborted fetal tissue in the manufacture of smallpox vaccine in 2001.

1 February, 2005
Referral not good enough: lesbian demands objectors perform insemination

Two doctors declined to inseminate a woman who identifies herself as lesbian because she was not married. Instead, they referred her to another doctor who assisted her to achieve a pregnancy, and agreed to to provide pre- and post-natal care and cover any costs incurred as a result of the referral. Six months after becoming pregnant with the assistance of the doctor to whom she was referred, she launched a civil suit against the clinic. In essence, she claims that the physicians acted wrongfully because they would not perform the insemination themselves. In November, 2004, the first ruling went against the clinic. The Alliance Defence Fund has secured an order from a California appeals court that requires the woman to show why the lower court order should not be quashed. The Appeal court invited comment on two issues: (a) whether a doctor has a right to refuse to perform a procedure for religious reasons, and (b) whether a doctor can accommodate his beliefs and satisfy anti-discrimination laws by referring a patient elsewhere and paying the associated costs. [Court of Appeal Writ]


30 January, 2005
Scots MP urges discrimination against Catholic schools

Liberal Democrat Mike Rumbles is demanding that Catholic schools abandon Catholic teaching in favour of the state's new 'sexual health strategy.' He argues that the state should withdraw funding if they do not do so. This kind of argument is typically used against denominational health care institutions to force them to supply services that contradict their beliefs.

28 January, 2005
Montana committee takes no action on oppressive bill

A senate bill that would have forced all health insurance plans to include coverage for birth control was discussed in a senate committee, but the committee took no action on the bill. [New Report]

Mifepristone (RU486) urged without regard for consequences for conscientious objectors

Professor Allan Templeton, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, has urged that the British government approve the use of mifepristone (RU-486) by women at home. He spoke at a forum organised by the chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Science. The use of the drug in South Africa is causing significant problems for conscientious objectors to abortion, who are in the majority among health care workers. Women are given the drug and told to go to emergency departments in hospitals when they start to bleed. Objecting physicians and staff are then faced with the task of completing an abortion begun by someone else.

27 January, 2005
Bill introduced in Arizona to secure freedom of conscience for pharmacists

A bill introduced in both houses of the the Arizona Legislature (HB 2541) would prevent health care providers from being forced to dispense the 'morning-after pill' and prescription contraceptives if they object to distributing such drugs for reasons of conscience.

20 January, 2005
Nurse goes to South Africa's High Court

Nurse Wilhemien Charles is suing the Gauteng health department, Kopanong Hospital, Gauteng health MEC Gwen Ramakgopa, and the Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang on the grounds that she was harassed and intimidated into assisting at abortions. She left the state hospital to work in the private sector. The Vereeniging Equality Court directed her to the Labour Court, but she is going to South Africa's High Court instead. She is seeking an unconditional apology, R50 000 damages, and court orders to prevent unfair discriminatory practices at South African health facilities.

Charles would have had to pay for proceedings in Labour Court, her current lawyer would not have been able to act for her, and other parties could not have joined the action to support her. Nurse Charles and Doctors for Life plan to submit evidence that intimidation of conscientious objectors is systemic. [News Item] [South African nurse denied position]

19 January, 2005
Inquest chairman suggests deliberate starvation is 'death by natural causes'

An inquest has heard evidence that 11 elderly men at a Derby hospital were starved to death. Inquest chairman Sir Richard Rougier has stated that if food and fluids were withheld "in good faith' to bring about patient deaths as "the lesser of two evils" (continued life apparently being the greater) "it would be grossly unfair to record a verdict other than that of death by natural causes" [The Telegraph]. His statement demonstrates the probability that conflicts of conscience are likely to arise for health care workers in such circumstances.

18 January, 2005
Differing testimony on euthanasia bill indicates importance of protection of conscience legislation

In testimony before a House of Lords Select Committee the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales has criticized Lord Joffe's euthanasia bill because it weakens protection for the vulnerable. [Catholic Communications Service, 18 January] On the other hand, Canon Professor Robin Gill, an advisor to the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, testified that Anglican were divided on whether or not the law should be changed, noting that Anglican bishops were against it but churchgoers were in favour. The Archbishop later stated that the Anglican church remains opposed to euthanasia. [The Independent, 16 January] The different positions adopted suggest the likelihood of conflicts of conscience arising among health care workers should the bill pass, and underline the importance of protective legislation for conscientious objectors.

11 January, 2005
New Jersey bill attacks pharmacists' freedom of conscience

A bill introduced in the New Jersey legislature would force pharmacists to dispense medication despite philosophical, moral or religious objections. [Bill]

7 January, 2005
Royal Dutch Medical Association sanctions death for persons not ill

A report from the Royal Dutch Medical association asserts that doctors may provide euthanasia for patients who are suffering "hopelessly and unbearably," even if they are not physically or mentally ill. Such persons are said to be "suffering through living." [British Medical Journal] The gradual expansion of the circumstances under which euthanasia is socially or ethically acceptable indicates the need for protection of conscience legislation, without which objectors are likely to face increasing pressure and even coercion to facilitate or participate in the procedure.

6 January, 2005
Bill in California attacks freedom of conscience

A bill proposed in California by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine would require pharmacists to supply contraceptives and potentially abortifacient drugs, even if it were against their conscientious convictions. Levine considers it a pharmacist's job to fill prescriptions. He is also working on a bill to legalize assisted suicide by doctors. It would be consistent with his position to force doctors to participate in assisted suicide. The bill is opposed by Assembly Leader Kevin McCarthy on the grounds. [EWTN