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Protection of Conscience Project

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October-December, 2005


23 December, 2005
Compulsory involvement in contraception, IVF

Christus Medicus Foundation reports that 29 American states demand that contraceptive coverage be provided in insurance plans, while 15 require the costs of in vitro fertilization be covered. The requirements violate the freedom of conscience of groups morally opposed to such procedures. [Christus Medicus]

Freedom of choice in health care

According to Christus Medicus Foundation, "precedent-setting values-centered faith-based health plans for federal employees in Illinois and Indiana" have been established. [Christus Medicus]

European experts demand compulsory referral for abortion

A 40 page opinion from the European Union's "Network of Independent Experts on Fundamental Rights" includes a demand that physicians who object to abortion for reasons of conscience should be compelled to refer patients to someone who will provide the procedure. The opinion was issued concerning a concordat between the Slovak Republic and the Holy See. The issue of referral for morally controversial procedures in Europe involves not only abortion, but euthanasia. Two universities and a professional physicians association in Belgium have advocated mandatory referral for euthanasia [Belgium: Redefining Palliative Care and Forcing Physicians to Refer for Euthanasia], while Committees of the Parliament of the United Kingdom decided that forcing conscientious objectors to refer for euthanasia is contrary to European human rights law [Mandatory Referral Contravenes European Charter]. The opinion issued by the "Network of Independent Experts" included a comment to the effect that, where euthanasia or assisted suicide is legal, conscientious objection must not be allowed to prevent access to the service. [Friday Fax] [Brussels Journal] [The Guardian]

22 December, 2005
South African nurse returns to court

Nurse Wilhemien Charles, who began a civil action in Vereeniging in 2004, will be returning to the Labour Court for a hearing in January. She sued 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. The case began in the Equality Court, moved to the Johannesburg High Court, and then referred to the Labour Court, where a hearing was held in November. [News Item] [South African nurse denied position]

19 December, 2005
Swiss hospital to permit assisted suicide

University hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland, has announced that it will permit physicians or members of "Exit," the Swiss euthanasia society, to assist terminally ill patients to commit suicide at the hospital. Suicides will begin after 1 January, 2006. Similar policies are being considered by Bern University Hospital and Basel University Hospital, while Zurich University Hospital plans to study the issue in future. [Hospitals discuss changing euthanasia rules] In January, 2004, the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences announced that it no longer opposed physician assisted suicide. [Medical body relaxes rules on euthanasia] It is possible that health care workers will be expected to facilitate assisted suicide, but the reports do not indicate that any provisions have been made to ensure that those objecting to it are not adversely affected by the new policy. Note that, in Belgium, legalization of euthanasia was followed a year later by demands that objecting physicians help the patient find a colleague willing to provide the service. [Belgium: Redefining Palliative Care and Forcing Physicians to Refer for Euthanasia]

16 December, 2005
Illinois pharmacists file suit

The American Center for Law and Justice has filed suit on behalf of three pharmacists who were effectively dismissed by Walgreens because they refused accommodation of their conscientious conviction that they should not dispense a drug that may end the life of a human embryo. [Walgreens suppresses freedom of conscience]

13 December, 2005
Suspended sentence for killing son; euthanasia reconsidered in Czech Republic

Andrew Wragg, who smothered his disabled son, Jacob, pleaded guilty to manslaughter on grounds of "diminished responsibility," has been given a two year suspended sentence in the United Kingdom. The victim suffered from Hunter Syndrome, and the killing was characterized as "mercy killing." [The Telegraph, 13 December] Meanwhile, a proposal being considered in the Czech Republic would see euthanasia legally distinguished from murder and subject to a lesser penalty. Religious leaders have objected to the suggestion. [, 13 December] The developments appear consistent with an increasingly tolerant view of euthanasia in Europe, which is likely to have serious consequences for health care workers who oppose the procedure. [Belgium: Redefining Palliative Care and Forcing Physicians to Refer for Euthanasia]

12 December, 2005
Plans for hybrid rabbit-human embryos

Professor Ian Wilmut and other researchers have approached the British Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority about their plans to make hybrid rabbit-human embryos as an alternative to cloning human embryos. [The Telegraph]

9 December, 2005
Controversy in Massachusetts

Catholic hospitals in Massachusetts were not returning media calls following an announcement by Governor Mitt Romney that they would be required to dispense the potentially abortifacient morning after pill to rape complainants. The State Public Health Commissioner had earlier said that institutions operated by religious denominations morally opposed to potentially abortifacient drugs were exempt from the new law. A spokesman for the Massachusetts Catholic Conference said that the failure of the Legislature to repeal previous legislation provides grounds for continued refusal to dispense the drug for reasons of conscience. [Romney reverses stand]

Draft pharmacist 'conscience clause' dropped in Nevada

Following hearings in which strong views were expressed by opposing sides, the Nevada Board of Pharmacy decided not to include a conscience clause in regulations it was considered. The policy would have obliged pharmacists to notify employers of moral objections to medications, leaving it to the pharmacist and employer to decide how to handle a request for the drug. [LifeNews] [Kolo TV] [Limited protection of conscience measure considered]

7 December, 2005
Objection to marital status sustained in California

The 4th District Court of Appeals in California has allowed two doctors the defence of religious objection in response to a civil suit by a lesbian claming that she had been discriminated against because they refused to artificially inseminate her. The physicians argued that their decision was based upon the fact that she was not married, not upon her sexual preferences. Moreover, they had referred her to a fertility specialist and had agreed to provide all of the pre- and post-natal care as well as absorb any of the costs incurred by the patient as a result of the referral. [Benitez v. North Coast Women's Care Medical Group]

5 December, 2005
China admits organ harvesting from executed prisoners

Chinese Deputy Health Minister Huang Jiefu has admitted that the organs of executed prisoners are sold to foreign transplant recipients, but has promised that new guidelines are being drafted to end the sale of organs for profit. Many health care workers would have conscientious objections to facilitating the delivery or use of such organs.

4 December, 2005
French prosecutor supports euthanasia

A French prosecutor has dropped criminal charges against a doctor and mother who killed her son by overdosing and lethally injecting him and switching off a life support machine. The 19 year old had been left paralyzed from the neck down and almost blind as a result of a motor vehicle accident in 2003 and had repeatedly asked to die. The prosecutor's decision was based on what he said were the "moral aspects" of the case. [The Telegraph] The case may illustrate increasing acceptance of euthanasia and assisted suicide in the French legal profession. Since law in secularist societies seems to be given the status of morality, support for euthanasia in the French legal profession may significantly influence social and political opinion, leading to increased pressure on the medical profession to accept the procedures. This would have serious consequences for conscientious objectors in the health care professions.

2 December, 2005
Prominent bioethicist denigrates sanctity of life ethic

Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer, known for his support for abortion, infanticide and euthanasia of elderly and disabled persons, told the Foreign Policy Journal (September/October edition) that by 2040 only "a rump of hard-core, know-nothing religious fundamentalists" would continue to believe in the value of human life from conception to natural death. Such disparaging comments do not augur well for freedom of conscience in health care.

1 December, 2005
Walgreens suppresses freedom of conscience

Four Walgreens pharmacists in Illinois have been ordered to dispense the potentially abortifacient morning after pill or move to another state. In the meantime, the company has suspended them without pay because they decline to dispense the drug for reasons of conscience. The company insists that this is required by Illinois law, citing an order made by state governor Rod Blagojevich that pharmacies must fill prescriptions despite conscientious objections. Company spokesman Tiffani Bruce claims that if action had not been taken against the pharmacists the company and its chief pharmacist could have their licenses revoked. In an interview aired on CNN, Governor Blagojevich contradicted his own earlier assertions that his order bound pharmacies, not individual pharmacists. [See testimony of the governor's senior policy advisor, Ms. Sheila Nix ]. He now says that the company "is following the law," and that a pharmacist "needs to do his job." He also demonstrated alarming ignorance of the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, saying that it does not apply to pharmacists, though the definition of "health care personnel" in the act is clearly broad enough to include the profession.


28 November, 2005
Canadian euthanasia bill dies

The Canadian Liberal government has lost a confidence vote in the House of Commons and a general election has been called for 23 January, 2006. A euthanasia bill that was debated in the House on 31 October and was to have been debated again in December died with the dissolution of parliament. It made no allowance for conscientious objection.

50 babies survive British abortions each year

A recently published British government document, "Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (CEMACH)," reports that as many as 50 babies survive late term abortions each year in the United Kingdom. The conflicts of conscience that can arise in such situations have been documented in Alberta, Canada [Foothills Hospital Now Forces Nurses To Participate In Genetic Terminations; Nurses At Foothills Hospital Rebel Over The Horrifying Results Of Late-Term 'Genetic Terminations'] Both the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommend that live births be prevented by killing infants in utero with injections of potassium chloride before abortions are commenced. It appears that few physicians in the United Kingdom are willing to do this. [The Times]

11 November, 2005
Wrongful birth suit in Australia

A 24 year old woman who is deaf, blind, and physically and mentally disabled and requires full-time care is attempting to sue her mother's doctor for failing to diagnose the rubella infection that is believed to have caused the disabilities. Her lawyers argue that her mother would have had an abortion had she been aware of the problems. This kind of civil action, if successful, can have a significant impact on physicians who have moral objections to eugenic screening practices [News Telegraph].

Mandatory referral not good enough for Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood is not satisfied with Target Corporation's general policy of forcing objecting pharmacists to refer for morally controversial products. Target allows a limited exemption for objecting pharmacists only in the case of the morning-after pill, on the condition that the pharmacist finds a colleague or another store that will fill a prescription. Planned Parenthood is demanding that all prescriptions be filled in the store where they are presented. Media focus on the demands put conscientious objection to referral into eclipse, so much so that some groups supportive of freedom of conscience appear to believe that Target Corporation's policies are entirely satisfactory. [Star Tribune] [Citizen Link]

9 November, 2005
Conscientious objection permitted by assisted suicide bill introduced in UK House of Lords

Lord Joffe has re-introduced a revised Assisted Dying for the Terminal Ill bill in the British House of Lords. The bill would legalize physician assisted suicide but not, apparently, euthanasia. Among other things, the bill no longer requires referral by an objecting physician; the sole requirement is that an objecting physician transfer medical records when asked to do so by the patient. Section 7 permits conscientious objection by any person.

6 November, 2005
Principle of vicarious moral responsibility supported by UN Committee

The UN Human Rights Committee has faulted Canada because it maintains a policy that permits deportation of persons to a country where they may be tortured or subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. At the root of this complaint is an implicit acknowledgement that one can be complicit in an immoral act if one facilitates a wrongful act by another. This is the basis of the concern of those who object to referral for morally controversial services [HRC 85th Session, Consideration of Reports].

4 November, 2005
Wisconsin pharmacist appeals ruling

An appeal has been filed by Neil Noesen, the Wisconsin pharmacist disciplined earlier this year by the Wisconsin State Pharmacy Examining Board for refusing to fill or transfer a prescription for contraceptives. The decision appealed against warrants careful reading. [News release]


31 October, 2005
False term "pre-embryo" used in court case

A court in Arizona referred to in vitro embryos as "pre-embryos." The use of the term was not necessary to its decision, but was adopted by the judges in what they claimed was an attempt to remain 'neutral' while dealing with a volatile issue. It would have been correct to use the term "early embryo," but the judges feared that this would imply that the embryos were human beings. [East Valley Tribune]

27 October, 2005
Sex-selection of embryos approved

Parents participating in a long term experiment in Houston, Texas, are being allowed to choose the sex of their child by using in vitro fertilization and sex selection through pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD. It is not known whether the embryos of the unwanted sex will be killed, donated or used for research. Scientists at the Baylor College of Medicine will be studying the long-term consequences of the practice. Sex selection is a morally controversial practice even among people who approve of in vitro fertilization and PGD.

26 October, 2005
Missouri Governor promises conscience protection for pharmacists

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention, Missouri Governor Matthew Blunt stated that he would work for a law to protect pharmacists who refuse to dispense the morning-after pill for reasons of conscience. [Post-Dispatch]

24 October, 2005
Limited protection of conscience measure being considered in Nevada

Nevada's state Pharmacy Board has been flooded by calls and e-mails about a proposal to allow pharmacists to decline to fill prescriptions that violate their conscientious convictions. They would, however, be forced to find another pharmacist to fill the prescription, something that some objectors are unwilling to do. [Reno Gazette-Journal] [Referral: A False Compromise] [Belgium: Forcing Physicians to Refer for Euthanasia] [Mandatory Referral Contravenes European Charter]

18 October, 2005
Spanish Catholic pharmacists refuse to sell condoms

In Malaga, Spain, a group of pharmacists is refusing to sell condoms for reasons of conscience. The Diario de Malaga, reports that they believe that "the selling of condoms involves a clear incitement to murder," which appears to be a reference to the fact that condoms cannot eliminate the transmission of STD's, including HIV/AIDS. While the Anti-AIDS Association of Malaga has received complaints about the pharmacists, a spokesman for the College of Pharmacology in Malaga considers them unimportant, since there are many other pharmacies nearby where condoms can be obtained. [Catholic News Agency]
17 October, 2005
New Zealand GP gives up contraceptive practice

Dr. Joseph Hassan of Nelson, New Zealand, has notified his patients that he will no longer prescribe contraceptives or refer patients for sterilization. Dr. Hassan, a Catholic, made the decision after lengthy reflection upon the teaching of the Catholic Church. His decision appears to have been communicated to the media by one of the patients who received the letter he had sent explaining his position. The letter recommended patients to alternative contraceptive providers. Popular opinion, as measured by news polls, is split, but he has been supported by colleagues, the New Zealand Medical Association and even by applauded for "being upfront" by National Family Planning medical adviser Dr Christine Rike. The response from the medical community, and especially Dr. Rike, is a welcome change from what objectors are accustomed to encountering in North America. [Central North Island Catholic GP balks at contraception] [Catholic GP's stance 'could lift rate of teen pregnancy'] [Family Life news release]

14 October, 2005
Investigation of euthanasia in New Orleans

The Louisiana State Attorney General has ordered an enquiry into 45 deaths that occurred during Hurricane Katrina at the Memorial Medical Centre in New Orleans. It has been alleged that the deaths were cases of euthanasia (The Times). If an investigation discloses that euthanasia was carried out, it will likely generate calls for legalization of the procedure.

Wisconsin Governor vetoes freedom of conscience for health care workers

Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle has again vetoed legislation that would have prevented health care workers from being forced to participate in specifically identified procedures that are known to be morally controversial, including abortion, sterilization, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, experimentation on in vitro embryos, stillborn, miscarried or aborted fetuses. (Badger Herald; The Capital Times)

11 October, 2005
Euthanasia campaigner will modify bill

Lord Joffe will redraft his Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill so that it will permit assisted suicide but not euthanasia and bring it back before the House of Lords.

Dignitas to open British office

Although assisted suicide is illegal in the United Kingdom, the Swiss assisted suicide organization Dignitas plans to open an office in Britain, as it did in Germany. The plan illustrates the continuous pressure being applied to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, which would have serious consequences for conscientious objectors to the procedures.

8 October, 2005
British Medical Association position on assisted suicide repudiated by physicians

A question in the British Medical Journal about the BMA's decision to drop its opposition to assisted suicide elicited an overwhelming rejection of the BMA's position by correspondents. The result is a strong indication of the importance of protection of conscience laws for health care workers.

5 October, 2005
Normalization of eugenic screening of embryos

Dr. Albert Yuzpe of Vancouver's Genesis Fertility Centre has suggested that pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is a service that could be paid for by federal and provincial health departments. PGD is a eugenic screening technique used to test embryos in vitro for a variety of genetic defects. Health Canada plans to introduce regulations to govern PGD in May. At present, 10 to 15 embryos may be conceived and grown for three days, at which point they are tested. Healthy embryos are implanted or frozen; those with genetic defects are killed or used for research. (The Ottawa Citizen) Normalization of the procedure through regulation and health department subsidies is likely to create and expectation of service that could pose problems for those with moral objections to the procedure.

4 October, 2005
Canadian Bishop opposes euthanasia bill

London Bishop Ronald Fabbro has issued a pastoral letter warning against the legalization of euthanasia that is being proposed in a private member's bill (Bill C-407) to be debated in the Canadian House of Commons at the end of October. The bill includes no protection of conscience provision.