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Protection of Conscience Project

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July-September, 2005


30 September, 2005
Groningen Protocol to be approved for infant euthanasia

Guidelines developed by the Groningen University Medical Center for killing terminally ill infants who are in great pain and have no likelihood of recovery will be discussed in Parliament, but there will be no vote before they are put into effect. Under the guidelines, two doctors and the parents must agree to the procedure. Opposition to the change voiced from different quarters indicates the potential for conflicts of conscience arising among health care workers involved in such cases. (CBC)

Attempt to suppress freedom of conscience fails in court

The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association failed to convince a federal court to overturn the Hyde-Weldon Amendment, which helps to prevent discrimination against health care workers who refuse to perform or refer for abortion. The NFPRHA argued, in effect, that protecting their freedom of conscience was unconstitutional. The suit was opposed by the Christian Legal Society and Alliance Defense Fund, representing the Christian Medical Association and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ( )

Prostitutes become "sex workers" for disabled

The Australian state of Tasmania will pay for prostitutes for disabled clients unable to afford their fees, while a disabled Danish man can expect the government to pay for the services of a prostitute twice a month. In either case, the arrangements illustrate the potential for conflicts of conscience arising among social workers who may not want to facilitate such sexual liaisons. Danish guidelines suggest that caregivers may have to help clients communicate their sexual wishes to the prostitutes. In principle, there appears to be no reason not to expect health care workers to find prostitutes for patients.

29 September, 2005
Assisted suicide group opens German office

Dignitas, a Swiss organization that has helped over 450 people commit suicide since 1998, has opened an office in Hanover, Germany. Legalization of the procedure would likely have a significant impact on health care workers who object to it for reasons of conscience.

28 September, 2005
Wisconsin bill goes to governor

Assembly Bill 207 (The Conscience Protection Act) passed the Wisconsin Senate by a 21-12 vote and goes to the governor for signature. Governor Doyle has repeatedly vetoed freedom of conscience legislation.

24 September, 2005
Illinois judge refuses restraining order against governor's rule

Sangamon County Judge John Belz declined to issue a temporary restraining order against a rule imposed by the state governor that requires pharmacies to dispense the morning after pill. Lawyer for the state Attorney General argued successfully that the complainants, who are pharmacy owners who object to the rule for reasons of conscience, do not have legal standing to apply for an order because they have not yet been sued or prosecuted.

22 September, 2005
Protection of conscience to be debated in Wisconsin Senate

The Conscience Protection Act (AB 207) will be debated in the Wisconsin Senate on 27 September, 2005. It would protect medical professionals, medical students, medical facilities and medical schools from being forced to participate in abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, the deliberate destruction of human embryos for research purposes or any other purpose, and the use of the body parts of aborted babies. The bill does not prohibit any of the activities from taking place but simply protects those in the health care community who do not wish to engage in activities that deliberately destroy human life.

Human stem cells from abortions used in mice

University of California at Irvine researchers have injected stem cells from the brains of aborted infants in experiments into mice that have spinal cord injuries. The mice regained some mobility. Use of tissue from abortions is morally controversial. It could give rise to conflicts of conscience among researchers. If a product or treatment depending on such tissue is developed, it would continue to be morally controversial and would likely generate conflicts of conscience among other health care workers. Already, StemCells Inc. of Palo Alto, California, is seeking permission to inject foetal cells into infants with Batten disease, which destroys the central nervous system. [Washington Post]

20 September, 2005
Assisted suicide bill to be debated

An amendment to the Canadian Criminal Code to permit assisted suicide, Bill C-407, will be debated on 31 October during second reading in the House of Commons. The bill could be defeated at that stage or be sent to committee. The bill includes no protection for conscientious objectors.

18 September, 2005
Massachusetts legislature overrides veto, legalizes repressive measure

The Senate and House of Representatives in Massachusetts have overridden a veto by the state governor in order to enact legislation that will force hospitals to provide the morning-pill to rape complainants.

16 September, 2005
Pharmacies sue Governor of Illinois

The argument that an 'emergency' order by the Governor of Illinois is acceptable because it directs pharmacies, not pharmacists, to dispense the morning after pill , is now being contested by four pharmacists who own or co-own five pharmacies in the state. The suit alleges that the governor's order violates the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act by suppressing the freedom of conscience of pharmacy owners.

15 September, 2005
Wisconsin bill considered in hearing

The Wisconsin Senate Health, Children, Families, Aging & Long Term Care Committee was scheduled to hold a hearing today on Assembly Bill 207, authored by Rep. Jean Hundertmark (R-Clintonville) and Sen. Carol Roessler (R-Oshkosh). The bill has already passed the state Assembly. [News release]

Health care cuts jeopardize patients

Only about a quarter of applications for re-approval of health care items like feeding tubes, nutritional formula and ventilators have been approved since a new law took effect on 1 September in Missouri. The law made such items "optional equipment," despite the fact that they are essential for some patients. Concern is being expressed by representatives of disability rights groups that the changes, made for economic reasons, will result in the death of people dependent upon such equipment. [Agape Press] [St. Louis Post Dispatch] The law may also cause conflicts of conscience for health care workers.

14 September, 2005
Ontario College of Pharmacists seeks to suppress freedom of conscience

In March, 2005, the Ontario College of Pharmacists submitted recommendations regarding a "Code of Ethics for Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians" to the Ontario Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council (HPRAC). "Principle 4" of the submission states: "The pharmacist and pharmacy technician respects the autonomy, individuality and dignity of each patient and provides care with respect for human rights and without discrimination. No patient shall be deprived of pharmaceutical services because of the personal convictions or religious beliefs of a pharmacist or pharmacy technician."

Despite the fact that a well-known controversy surrounds freedom of conscience in health care, especially with respect to pharmacists, the College did not, in drafting its recommendation, confer with or invite submissions from those likely to be adversely affected by the implementation of such a principle. The submission appears to have been drafted secretly and made without any announcement. News of the submission came through Iain Benson of the Centre for Cultural Renewal, who sharply attacked the College's recommendation as inconsistent with the approach taken by the Canadian Medical Association and contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. [See "A narrow and frankly totalitarian view of professional practice"]

13 September, 2005
Medical students' forum planned for Montreal

A forum sponsored by Canadian Physicians for Life will be held in Montreal from 17 to 19 November, 2005. Students will be encouraged to learn to articulate their views in a manner that is likely to be more readily understood and accepted by colleagues. This is of particular importance for those who object to some medical procedures or services for reasons of conscience.

Euthanasia conference planned in United Kingdom

The University of Liverpool, England, is the site for an international conference on euthanasia that begins on 13 September. Topics will include the withdrawal or withholding of medical treatment, voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide. Medical and legal experts from German, Belgian, Dutch and UK universities will be taking part [BBCNews].

12 September, 2005
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists attacks freedom of conscience

The Christian Medical Association has accused the 'pro-choice' ACOG of hypocrisy for attempting to deny freedom of choice to physicians who object to abortion. In a letter to US Senators, ACOG President, Dr. Michael T. Mennuti, insisted that physicians unwilling to perform abortions for reasons of conscience should be forced to refer patients for the procedure. [CMA news release]

Abortion drug advocated in Australia

Mifepristone (RU-486) has been banned in Australia since 1996, but the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists argues for its legalization in a policy document to be released later in 2005. The use of the drug can cause problems for conscientious objectors, even if they are not required to provide it themselves. [See Mifepristone (RU486) urged without regard for consequences for conscientious objectors]

11 September, 2005
California bill compels pharmacies to dispense morning after pill

The Californian Senate has passed a bill that allows pharmacists to decline to dispense drugs for reasons of conscience, but which compels the pharmacy manager or owner to ensure that the patient has "timely access" to the drug. An 'emergency' order from the governor of Illinois issued early this year was drafted in a similar manner and has given rise to lawsuits by affected pharmacists.

Euthanasia reported in New Orleans after hurricane

The Daily Mail (United Kingdom) has published an interview with a New Orleans doctor who admitted that, after the devastation caused by hurricane Katrian, he had given lethal injections of morphine to patients who would otherwise "have been dead within hours, if not days." Local government officials and a hospital orderly corroborated the story. An emergency worker was quoted as saying that the patients "were given a lot of morphine and lain down in a dark place to die." The failure to respond promptly to the needs of patients left helpless after the hurricane clearly contributed to the decision to kill the patients, but the procedure remains morally controversial even in the extraordinary circumstances prevailing after the catastrophic flood that overwhelmed the city. It is unlikely that any issues arose in New Orleans concerning conscientious objection, but the fact that euthanasia was practised is likely to be used as an argument for its legalization. This may have long-term consequences for objectors.

10 September, 2005
Foetal tissue sold in Ukraine

Foetal spleen and liver cells and fragments of foetal spine are among the products advertised for sale on the website The 'products' are produced by the Institute for Problems of Cryobiology and Cryomedicine of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, in Kharkov from legal abortions. An article in The Times On-Line reports that babies born before 27 weeks gestation are considered 'abortions' and not registered. Those that do not survive may be harvested by medical authorities for their body parts. Ukraine is in the process of changing the definition of 'birth,' which may address this problem. Similar controversies have arisen elsewhere [ Wholesale enterprise supplies researchers (Canada & U.S.A.) (1999)]

9 September, 2005
Scientists plan to make embryo with three parents

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in the United Kingdom has approved a plan by researchers at the University of Newcastle to make embryos with genetic materials combined from a man and two women. [BBC News] The project illustrates the continuing development of morally controversial procedures and the need for comprehensive protection of conscience legislation drafted with such developments in mind.

8 September, 2005
100 British peers support euthanasia

This is Bristol reports that 100 members of the House of Lords support the campaign of a terminally ill woman to legalize euthanasia. Her supporters include Lord Joffe, the author of a bill that would legalize the procedure. 29 year old Kelly Taylor abandoned an attempt to starve herself to death because it caused too much suffering.

6 September, 2005
Peruvian court prohibits distribution of morning-after pill

In a ruling that illustrates the moral controversy surrounding the morning-after pill, a court in Lima has prohibited the distribution of the drug in the country until it has been determined not to have an abortifacient mechanism of action.


30 August, 2005
Survey illustrates potential for conflicts of conscience

Results of an internet opinion pole by the Daily Telegraph suggest that 58% of Britons favoured an upper limit of 20 weeks or less for abortion. In contrast, 87% favoured euthanasia and 67% supported assisted suicide. The numbers suggest that conflicts of conscience are more likely with respect to abortion than euthanasia or assisted suicide, but that the pressure on objectors to the latter procedures would probably be more pronounced were they to be legalized.

29 August, 2005
Objector begins court case in South Africa

Sister Wilhelmien Charles has begun an action in the Johannesburg High Court against the Kopanong Hospital in Vereenging for having barred her from working in an operating room because she objected to assisting with abortion. She is seeking R50,000. in damages and reinstatement. [South African nurse denied position]

Refusal to transport inmates not a conscience issue

In Arizona, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge has ruled that a county sheriff's office must transport female inmates for elective abortion without first obtaining a court order to do so. The Sheriff had refused to do so primarily because of security and liability concerns. No issue was raised with respect to conscientious objection by sheriff's officers. [Arizona Daily Star]

20 August, 2005
Illinois pharmacists will defy governor's order

Several pharmacists in Illinois have stated that they will not comply with the state governor's order that requires pharmacies to dispense or refer for the morning-after pill if they carry contraceptives. The governor argues that the rule applies to pharmacies, not pharmacists, so it is unclear how the rule will be applied. In theory, it would adversely impact objectors who own their own pharmacies, but only one of the pharmacists refusing the order has an interest in the business in which he works.

18 August, 2005
Aborted fetal skin used for grafts

Skin from an aborted baby has been used as a graft to treat burn victims by physicians at the University Hospital of Lausanne in Switzerland. The use of tissue from aborted infants has the potential to cause conflicts of conscience among health care workers and patients.

17 August, 2005
Temporary rule becomes law in Illinois

The Illinois state legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules approved a rule by Governor Blagojevich that pharmacists must dispense contraceptives "without delay," regardless of conscientious objection to the drugs. All but two members of the bipartisan committee voted in favour of the rule.

12 August, 2005
UK Catholic Hospital permits abortion referral

A spokesman for St John and St Elizabeth Hospital, a private Catholic institution in the United Kingdom that is apparently well-known because the babies of numerous celebrities have been born there, has stated that patients are being referred for abortions by physicians at the hospital when they are deemed "medically necessary." She described this as a "compromise" between Catholic teaching and the hospital's philosophy. However, Dr. Helen Watt of the Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics, also located at the hospital, states that the practice of referral for abortion should not be permitted in a Catholic facility. The situation became public as a result of a decision by the hospital to lease space to National Health Service physicians, who are reported to be obliged by contract to refer for abortions and prescribe abortifacient drugs. Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor is reported to be heading an inquiry into the problem.

11 August, 2005
Planned Parenthood criminalizes freedom of conscience

Kathy Kushnir, an executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island, has described the exercise of freedom of conscience by a pharmacist as "criminal." On a Friday night, a pharmacist at a drive-in window of a CVS Pharmacy in Providence, Rhode Island, refused to fill a prescription for the potentially abortifacient morning-after pill for reasons of conscience. The pharmacist advised the patient that she could return later or drive to another 24 hour pharmacy to have the prescription filled. The patient returned the next day and obtained the drug. CVS is supporting the pharmacist, but Planned Parenthood claims that every prescription presented by a woman must be filled "period, end of story." Presumably Planned Parenthood would make the same demand (without respect to the sex of the patient) for the filling of prescriptions for euthanasia and assisted suicide. The aggressive policies of the organization illustrate the ongoing threat to freedom of conscience for health care workers.

10 August, 2005
Catholic clergy oppose withdrawal of nutrition, hydration

The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy has issued a statement that describes the provision of nutrition and hydration as ordinary medical care that must always be provided, adding that "to withhold or withdraw them while still effective is completely immoral." The group also condemned destructive human embryo research. The statement illustrates the potential for conflicts of conscience arising among health care workers and researchers.

9 August, 2005
Irish group challenging Irish ban on abortion

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) is assisting the case of three anonymous Irish women who have lodged a complaint against the Irish constitution with the European Court of Human Rights. The IFPA is also launching a campaign to legalize abortion in Ireland. Over 6,000 women are reported to have gone from Ireland to England for abortion in 2004. Legalization of abortion would likely lead to serious conflicts of conscience for many health care professionals, most of whom appear to be opposed to the procedure. [See Conscientious Objection in Ireland (May, 2000)]

8 August, 2005
Half of Dutch doctors surveyed report euthanasia requests

Half of the 3,614 doctors surveyed in a study of general practitioners in the Netherlands had received at least one request for euthanasia in the previous year. The government reported 1,886 cases of euthanasia in the year, out of more than 2,600 requests. The figures suggest that legalized euthanasia affects a substantial number of physicians. About 60% of the physicians approached responded to the survey.

7 August, 2005
Lesbian sues objecting physicians, seeks to deny defence of religious freedom

A case pending in the 4th District Court of Appeals in San Diego, California, will be of considerable importance to religious believers in the state. Dr. Christine Brody, Dr. Douglas Fenton and their medical practice are being sued by a lesbian whom they refused to inseminate for reasons of conscience. The plaintiff and defendants describe these reasons differently. The former claims that they had religious objections to her homosexual lifestyle/conduct, while the latter assert that they had religious objections to inseminating the unmarried. Lawyers for the plaintiff want the court to deny a jury the right to decide whether or not the physicians "were acting out of sincere religious belief or simply discriminating against gays" on the grounds that to do so would permit discrimination "under the guise of religious freedom." Jennifer Pizer of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, said that religious believers in the public square must follow the "neutral" rules that society has adopted - as if the legalization of homosexual conduct, relationships, or artificial insemination were morally "neutral." [On this point see There Are No Secular Unbelievers ; The Illusion of Moral Neutrality - Part IV; Establishment Bioethics]

5 August, 2005
Morning after pill causes conflict in Mexico

On 11 July, 2005, Mexican President Vicente Fox ordered public hospitals or clinics to make the morning after pill available free. The policy was condemned by the country's Catholic bishops, and a government minister has called for the policy to be rescinded. The controversy illustrates the probability of conflicts of conscience among health care workers called upon to distribute the drug.

Woman denied nutrition and hydration dies

A 50 year old woman in Australia died 10 days after a feeding tube was removed. She had been severely brain-injured after an attempt on her life by her husband's lover about six months earlier. Removal or denial of assisted nutrition or hydration from patients who are not dying remains a morally controversial procedure, though it is legally allowed in many jurisdictions.


31 July, 2005
Legal regulation of euthanasia advocated in Columbia

In 1997 a court ruling in Columbia decriminalized assisted suicide, but the practice remains unregulated. Carlos Gaviria, now a senator, who wrote the majority court decision, is now calling for a debate on regulating euthanasia.

29 July, 2005
General Medical Council succeeds in appeal

An English appeal court has reversed a lower court ruling that would have prevented doctors from stopping assisted nutrition and hydration when patients are unable to communicate their wishes. The case may go to the House of Lords.

26 July, 2005
US House committee holds hearing on attack on freedom of conscience by Illinois Governor

Luke Vander Bleek, R.Ph., owner of several pharmacies serving rural areas in Illinois, appeared before the House Small Business Committee to testify that an 'emergency' order by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich "creates an environment in Illinois whereby a person holding deep moral convictions concerning the unborn cannot own and operate a licensed pharmacy." The hearing was arranged by Committee Chairman Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Illinois) as a result of the Governor's order that Illinois pharmacies must fill orders for the morning-after pill. One witness said that she was "humiliated and discriminated against" by a pharmacist who refused a prescription. She admitted that she obtained the drug at another store that was 20 minutes away. [Hearing transcripts]

18 July, 2005
Catholic authority reflects on use of vaccines from aborted infants

The Catholic Pontifical Academy for Life has produced a document, approved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that reflects on the use of vaccines originating in tissue obtained from abortion.(Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived from Aborted Human Foetuses). The document summarizes the nature of formal and material cooperation and the moral culpability of those who produce and use such vaccines, so it is of particular importance for Catholics and those who apply similar moral reasoning to arrive at judgements of conscience.

17 July, 2005
Marie Stopes International & Abortion Rights target conscientious objectors

Claiming that refusal to refer for abortion violates the guidelines of Britain's General Medical Council, Marie Stopes International and a group called Abortion Rights are urging women to complain to the GMC if a physician who will not provide an abortion refuses to give them the name of an abortionist. The attack on freedom of conscience will be resisted by objecting physicians, according to Dr. Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Fellowship [The Times, 17 July]

14 July, 2005
Royal College of Nursing general secretary suggests expanded role for nurses in abortion

Dr Beverley Malone, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, stated that the organization wants to increase access to abortion in the early stages of pregnancy "and allow nurses greater involvement in providing services." She made no reference to the issue of freedom of conscience for nurses, which the College supports. (See Policy of the Royal College of Nursing of the United Kingdom)

10 July, 2005
Anglican synod at odds with British Medical Association

A vote by the Church of England Synod that went overwhelmingly against a legalization of euthanasia contrasts with the recent decision of the British Medical Association to cease opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide. It provides further evidence that significant conflicts of conscience will arise if the law is changed. The vote was directed at Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill.

8 July, 2005
Michigan governor considering mandatory insurance for contraception

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is reported to be considering a policy that would force employers who provide health insurance to include coverage for contraception. Such a possibility concerns the Michigan Catholic Conference, since it would force Catholic employers to choose between withholding a benefit from employees and providing what the Catholic Church holds to be a morally objectionable drug.

Abortion drugs considered "essential medicine"

Mifepristone and misoprostol, abortion drugs, have been added to the World Health Organisation's list of essential medicines. Hans Hogerzeil, director of medicines policy and standards, stated that the drugs will be especially valuable in developing countries. The use of the drug can pose significant problems for conscientious objectors. (See Mifepristone (RU486) urged without regard for consequences for conscientious objectors)

5 July, 2005
Sex-selective abortion feared

A blood test kit sold for $275.00 (US) is reported to be 99% accurate in determining the sex of an infant in utuero. Ethicists like Dr. Michael Grodin of the Boston University School of Public Health, who are not concerned about abortion to dispose of infants with genetic or medical disorders, are concerned that the kits will facilitate sex-selective abortions. The concern illustrates the fact that conscientious objections can occur among people who do not ordinarily object to a procedure. [New Fetal Gender Test Raises Ethical Questions]

3 July, 2005
Pharmaceutical abortions recommended in UK

As a result of a trial of mifespristone (RU486) involving 50 women at the Royal Infirmary in Aberdeen, some doctors are pressing for approval for the use of the drug at home. Widespread use of the drug in South Africa has caused problems for conscientious objectors at emergency departments in state hospitals, since the women are often given the drug and told to go to the hospital to have the abortion completed if there are any complications (See Mifepristone (RU486) urged without regard for consequences for conscientious objectors)