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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude
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January-March, 2006


30 March, 2006
Ukrainian doctors seek asylum in Ireland

The The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe expressed concern about allegations of trafficking of babies for adoption and of aborted or premature babies for "scientific" purposes in the Ukraine. With the knowledge of the police, two Ukrainian doctors, Vadym Lazaryev and Vladymyr Ishchenko, began an independent investigation into payments made to women undergoing abortions. The doctors learned that the suspect practices had support in high levels of the government and were advised to discontinue the investigation. After an attempt was made on their lives they fled the Ukraine and sought asylum in Ireland. They are appealing the rejection of their application. The case suggests that health care workers in the Ukraine could face considerable pressure to participate in morally controversial procedures that are supported by professional and governmental elites.

14 March, 2006
Alliance Defense Fund supports Washington pharmacists

Responding to news that the Washington State Pharmacy Board will soon be considering the issue of freedom of conscience for pharmacists, the Alliance Defense Fund has sent a letter to the Board urging it to adopt a policy protecting the right of conscience for pharmacists., [ADF news release]

13 March, 2006
Georgia house rejects even limited freedom of conscience measure for pharmacists
Georgia House Bill 566 has been rejected by the Georgia House of representatives. It would have continued to permit conscientious objection to abortion by physicians and hospitals under the existing statute, and would have allowed conscientious objection by pharmacists only if the objector were to provide advance written notice to employers, and facilitate the abortion by referring a patient elsewhere. An identical bill was passed in the Georgia senate last month. It is reported that regulations of the Georgia State Board of Pharmacists already protect pharmacists who refuse to provide a medication for reasons of conscience. [Access North Georgia,]
11 March, 2006
Freedom of conscience called for in 2nd trimester abortions

A district health board in New Zealand plans to subsidize travel to Australia for women who want 2nd trimester abortions because staff decline to perform the procedures. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists supports the decision. Alastair Haslum, vice-president of the organization, describes 2nd trimester abortion as "a very different and difficult procedure" that sometimes involves induced labour. The College does not believe that health care workers should be pressured to take part. [Radio New Zealand]

Washington State Pharmacy Board to consider freedom of conscience policy

The Washington State Pharmacy Association supports protective policies for pharmacists who choose not to dispense a drug for reasons of conscience. Planned Parenthood and other defenders of 'freedom of choice' are against allowing pharmacists the freedom to choose. It is unlikely that the State Pharmacy Board will make a decision about a proposal to protect freedom of conscience in the near future. [Seattle Post Intelligencer]

10 March, 2006
New Hampshire rejects freedom of conscience

The state motto of New Hampshire is "Live Free or Die," but state legislators have decided that the first half of the statement does not apply to pharmacists in the state. The state legislature, supported by abortion advocates who, in other circumstances, declare themselves to be pro-choice, has defeated House Bill No. 1492, which would have permitted freedom of choice for pharmacists who object to dispensing certain drugs for reasons of conscience. New Hampshire allows sales of the morning after pill over the counter without a doctor's visit. A recent survey indicated that over half of the state pharmacists believe that they should be able to decline to dispense the drug. [] [Concord Monitor]

9 March, 2006
Concerns voiced re: Mental Capacity Act

A government invitation for public comment on a draft 'code of practice' for the Mental Capacity Act (2005) has been greeted with criticism that the document will establish protocols for euthanasia "by starvation, dehydration and neglect." The bill could prove to be problematic for health care workers who do not wish to cause the death of patients by such means.

8 March, 2006
Minnesota House committee approves pharmacist protection
Minnesota Bill H.F. 3032 has been approved by a committee of the state House of Representatives. It exempts objecting pharmacists from providing or referring for a drug to which they object for reasons of conscience, provided that the pharmacist has notified his employer in advance, and the employer can accommodate the pharmacist without undue hardship. The onus is placed on the employer, not the objecting pharmacist, to develop protocols to ensure patient access. The principal weakness in the bill is the fact that it does not provide for conscientious objection by a pharmacy owner. This, combined with the stated intent of the legislature, implies that it is public policy in the state of Minnesota that people who object to certain kinds of drugs for reasons of conscience shall not be permitted to own pharmacies in the state or otherwise engage in independent pharmacy practice.
6 March, 2006
UK journalist makes news

Birmingham journalist Maureen Messent has been arrested for murder as a result of her admission in a column for the Birmingham Mail that she used morphine to kill her great aunt, who had lung cancer. The development is part of the continuing debate in the United Kingdom about the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia [The Guardian].


27 February, 2006
Pakistani nurse gang raped for refusing to perform abortions

A young nurse working at the Mattrai health centre refused to perform abortions on two women, despite constant pressure from their families for six months. Abortion is illegal in Pakistan after the fourth month of pregnancy if the woman's life is not in danger. A representative of the Punjab Healthworkers' Association stated that this is not the first time this has occurred. Gang rape is reported to be used as a punishment for women for "social transgressions" in that part of the country. The families of three men who raped her are now threatening her family. It is possible that UN demands for aggressive population control has contributed to this situation. Pakistan agreed tomake population control a "national priority" after the the UNFPA threatened to withdraw US $250 million in health programs unless the country accepted $35 million dedicated to birth control and abortion. []

Georgia Senate measure offers limited protection

The senate in the American state of Georgia has passed Georgia Senate Bill 123 .This bill permits conscientious objection to abortion by physicians and hospitals. However, it permits conscientious objection by pharmacists only if the objector facilitates the abortion by referring a patient elsewhere.

24 February, 2006
Indian judge orders sterilizations: threatens dismissal for non-compliance

Judge Amrit Abhijat of the district court in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has ordered each "Class III employee in the Medical Health Department" to bring 10 people in for sterilization by the end of March. His order also applies to teachers and village leaders. Even Catholic teachers are expected to promote sterilization among their pupils and their families. The order is strongly opposed by the Indian Catholic bishops' conference. [Zenit, AsiaNews]

22 February, 2006
Connecticut plans oppressive bill

A spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, has vowed that the Archdiocese will oppose a planned bill that would force all hospitals in the state to provide the potentially abortificaient morning-after pill.

21 February, 2006
Conscientious objection by anaesthesiologists to participation in execution

The execution of convicted murderer Michael Morales by lethal injection has been postponed in California because anaesthesiologists concluded that what was being required of them was unethical. [LA Times]

16 February, 2006
Polish woman in court over denial of abortion

Alicia Tysiac, who states that she was warned she could become blind if she continued with a pregnancy, is arguing that her human rights were violated by gynaecologists who said that there was no medical justification for an abortion. Abortion is permitted by law in Poland in cases of rape, danger to the mother's life and congenital disability. Tysiac suffered retinal bleeding during the subsequent Caesarean birth of her third child. The case is being heard by the European Court of Human Rights. A ruling that abortion is a human right could possibly eliminate any existing accommodation for conscientious objection to the procedure. [Medical News Today, 16 February, 2006]

New bill would 'presume consent' for organ donation

A private member's bill introduced in the Ontario legislature would mandate organ donation by anyone who had not previously stated that he did not want his organs donated. The bill's sponsor claims that it "will help ease the organ donation crisis." Concerns are being expressed that 'presumed consent' will encourage euthanasia or organ harvesting from living but severely disabled or injured people. Conscientious objectors would be adversely affected should those fears be realized.

14 February, 2006
Wal-Mart ordered to carry morning-after pill in Massachusetts

In a move likely to have serious consequences for conscientious objectors, the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy unanimously decided to order Wal-Mart pharmacies in the state to carry the morning-after pill. The order appears related to a civil suit launched by three women who are trying to force Wal-Mart to carry the drug. [AP] [CMA Commentary]

10 February, 2006
Catholic hospital in UK in breach of code of ethics
Lord Brennan has advisedCormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, to put an end to the practice of referral for abortion and prescription of the morning after pill at St. John and St Elizabeth Hospital, an officially Catholic facility known for its popularity with celebrities. In a report commissioned by the Cardinal, Lord Brennan concluded that the hospital is acting in violation of Catholic teaching, and thus in breach of its own code of ethics. The hospital claimed to be practising 'ecumenism.' [The Telegraph]Hospital policy could have created significant problems for conscientious objectors working within the hospital.
9 February, 2006
Lack of conscience protection worries professionals in Oregon

The November ballot in Oregon may include a referendum on entrenching "access to effective and affordable health care" in the state constitution. Initiative Petition 40, which needs more than 100,000 signatures by July to make the November ballot, would order the legislature to develop a plan by July, 2009. What is of concern is the lack of any protection of conscience measure in the petition. Catholic physicians and the Oregon Catholic Conference oppose the petition for this reason. They are concerned that to entrench the provision of health care as a right without allowing for conscientious objection might lead to physicians being forced to participate in morally objectionable acts, such as assisted suicide, which is legal in the state.

Wisconsin pharmacist loses appeal

Pharmacist Neil Noesen has lost an appeal to the Barron County Circuit Court and has been ordered to pay $20,000 to the state pharmacy board to cover the cost of proceeding against him for professional misconduct. He had refused to dispense birth control pills for reasons of conscience.

Slovak government in crisis over conscience treaty

The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), a main partner in Slovakia's coalition government, left the coalition after the Prime Minister refused to allow a vote to ratify a treaty with the Vatican for the protection of conscience. The KDH refused to accept a suggestion that negotiations with the Holy See be re-opened to revise the draft so that it would be easier to pass. It has been suggested that the Prime Minister wanted to avoid a vote for fear the proposed treaty would be defeated. []

6 February, 2006
Protection of conscience bill defeated in South Dakota

House Bill 1184 was defeated by one vote in the South Dakota House of Representatives. The bill had been introduced by Representative Don Van Etten, a retired surgeon. One of the bill's opponents claimed that it might result in patients in rural areas being denied life-saving treatment. [AP report]

3 February, 2006
Catholic hospitals in three states dispensing morning-after pill on demand

According to a report from an abortion activist group that purports to be associated with the Catholic Church, 16 Catholic hospitals in Washington State, New York State and California dispense the potentially abortifacient morning-after pill on demand. Since Catholic teaching holds that all forms of contraception are intrinsically evil (except when used to prevent conception in the case of rape) and direct abortion can never be morally justified, it is possible that hospital staff who adhere to Catholic teaching will face conflicts of conscience. Resolution of conflicts is especially stressful in such circumstances because an employee who asserts his own freedom of conscience implicitly challenges the Catholicity of the institution and of co-religionists who implement or co-operate with the policy. [Report]

Objectors to consider mass resignation from Australian Medical Association

Over 200 members of the Guild of St Luke, a Catholic physician's society, will consider resigning en masse from the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners because those organizations are supporting the use of mifepristone (RU486). []

2 February, 2006
Wal-Mart sued to force store to carry morning-after pill

Wal-Mart in Massachusetts is being sued in an action orchestrated by activists who want to force the store to provide the morning-after pill. If the suit is successful, objecting pharmacists who work for the company may face pressure to dispense or refer for the drug. [Yahoo]


30 January, 2006
Conscientious objection in Steinbach, Manitoba

Three of five pharmacies in the town of Steinbach, Manitoba, do not carry the morning after pill, according to a report published in the Winnipeg Free Press. A reporter visiting those stores was referred to the local Shoppers Drug Mart for the product. The report suggested that the strength of Christian belief in the town was a factor influencing the distribution of the drug. Objectors did not wish to be interviewed for the story, which is not surprising. Aside from any personal discomfort they might have with media interviews on the subject, there is a risk that they would be targeted by activists and harassed by complaints of professional misconduct. The Code of Ethics of the Manitoba Pharmaceutical Association is silent on the subject of referral, and a suggestion that pharmacists should pre-arrange alternative sources for morally controversial products was formally rejected by the Association in 2000. Despite this, the report asserted that objecting pharmacists are required to refer for the drug if they are unwilling to dispense it. [Winnipeg Free Press] [Project News Release]

Freedom of conscience in the balance in Nevada

A story in the Las Vegas Sun suggests that Caliente, Nevada pharmacist Adam Katschke "could be the poster boy" for the controversy over conscientious objection by pharmacists. It reports that he is the only pharmacist at his pharmacy, and that if he were to refuse to dispense a medication, the next-nearest pharmacy is in St. George, Utah - 110 miles away [Las Vegas Sun] However, the drug is also available at Smith's Food & Drug Centers Inc: Pharmacy in Mesquite, Nevada, about 63 miles from Caliente. Moreover, the Grover C Dils Medical Center (also known as the Lincoln County Memorial Hospital and Lincoln County Medical Clinic) is located in Caliente, and this suggests that at least one physician is practising in the area. If the shorter trip to Mesquite is not practical, the drug could be dispensed from hospitals or physicians' offices, though such alternatives might require changes to current regulations or practice. According to the Las Vegas Sun Report, the State Pharmacy Board, which was unable to resolve the problem of conscientious objection in December, 2005, and has been asked to leave the matter for the state legislature. The legislature, with a Democratic majority in the Assembly and Republican majority in the Senate, has been deadlocked on the issue.

Freedom of conscience issues "gaining new prominence" in USA

The Washington Post reports that debate about freedom of conscience in health care "is gaining new prominence" and "intensifying" in the United States. Rob Stein of the Post reports that more than a dozen states are considering protective legislation, about half of that number have measures drafted specifically for pharmacists, while others are looking at broader protection. While the report cites pharmacists' concerns about the morning after pill as the factor that launched the current debate in the USA, it acknowledges that there are a number of other contentious issues that contribute to the developing controversy. [Washington Post]

28 January, 2006
Civil suit by pharmacists begins in Illinois

Four pharmacists represented by the American Center for Law and Justice have filed suit in Madison County, Illinois, against the U.S. drugstore chain Walgreen Company. The company placed them on indefinite, unpaid leave when they refused to dispense the morning after pill for reasons of conscience. Walgreen claims that it had to do so to comply with an order by the governor of Illinois to dispense the drug, even though the order was not directed at individual pharmacists. The four worked at night in Walgreen's stores that were open 24 hours, and were the only pharmacists on duty at those locations. Walgreen's policy permits objectors to decline to dispense the drug, on condition that they immediately refer the patient to another pharmacist, a practice unacceptable to many objectors, though not to all. The company offered to transfer the pharmacists to nearby stores just over the border in Missouri and keep them on payroll while they applied for licences to practise there. It is likely that one of the pivotal issues in the case will be the nature of the accommodation offered to the pharmacists. This may obscure the problems associated with referral and with the legality of the state governor's decree. [Reuters]

27 January, 2006
Missouri pharmacist fired for exercising freedom of conscience

Heather Williams, a pharmacist who refused, for reasons of conscience, to dispense or refer for the morning-after pill, was fired by Target, a chain store. Ironically, the Target store where she worked did not stock the drug. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that she had maintained her position as a part-time Target pharmacy employee for five years prior to the incident that led to her dismissal on 1 January, 2006. Williams is represented by lawyer Ed Martin, who is also acting for four Walgreens pharmacists fired in St. Louis, Illinois. She has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of Missouri and blames Planned Parenthood, not the Target store, for the action taken against her. She said that a Planned Parenthood campaign led Target to demand that pharmacists sign an agreement to dispense the morning after pill or refer for it, first ensuring that the store to which the customer was referred had the drug in stock, and even providing directions to the store.
26 January, 2006
British doctor commits suicide in Switzerland

Dr Anne Turner of the United Kingdom, who stated that she had previously attempted suicide by drug overdose, committed suicide in Zurich at a facility run by the Swiss assisted suicide organization, Dignitas. She was suffering from supranuclear palsy, a degenerative disease. [BBC, 24 January, 2006] British police are seeking legal advice about whether or not to question Dr. Turner's family, who went with her to Switzerland. Meanwhile former chairman of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, Dr. Michael Irwin, is under investigation for counselling or encouraging five people wanting to commit suicide in Switzerland, and for accompanying one patient for that purpose. [The Telegraph, 26 January and The Guardian, 25 January] Reports of 'suicide tourism' by British citizens have become a staple of news reports in the euthanasia/assisted suicide debate that is ongoing in the United Kingdom. For example, Boris Johnson, a Conservative MP who also writes for the Daily Telegraph, supports Lord Joffe's assisted suicide bill as a 'reasonable' measure that "might be better than seeing increasing numbers of British people forced to take their lives in a foreign country." [The Telegraph, 26 January, 2006]

Washington nurses protest retaliation

Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) has filed an unfair labour practice charge against the Virginia Mason Medical Center, alleging that the Center retaliated and discriminated against registered nurses who refused flu vaccinations by forcing them to wear masks. There is no evidence that masks prevent the transmission of influenza. An arbitrator, supported by a Federal Court ruling, had held that the Center could not force nurses to be vaccinated against influenza as a condition of employment. The case did not involve conscientious objection to vaccination, but the retaliation alleged is consistent with the kind of harassment sometimes experienced by conscientious objectors. [WSNA News Release]

17 January, 2006
Survey suggests low rate of euthanasia in United Kingdom

The BBC reports that about 0.5% of deaths in the United Kingdom - 2,000 deaths - were the result of "involuntary euthanasia." 936 patients were said to have been killed at their own request. The figures come from a survey of 857 doctors by Brunel University, of whom only 2.6% favoured legalization of euthanasia or assisted suicide. [BBC, 17 January] Such surveys can be used to support euthanasia (based either on the need to control the practice or the belief that relatively few people would be directly affected by a change in the law) or to oppose it (on the grounds that few people seek it out and most medical practitioners are opposed to it.) What is of interest from the perspective of freedom of conscience is the fact that the apparent opposition of the majority of the medical profession illustrates the importance of robust protection of conscience measures should the procedure be legalized.

16 January, 2006
New York Court supports repressive law
By 3-2 decision a court in New York has upheld a state statute that compels employers to pay for contraceptives as part of medical insurance benefits for employees, even if employers object to contraception for moral reasons. The New York State Catholic Conference is likely to appeal the ruling.
12 January, 2006
Missouri Gov. Blunt attacked for support of freedom of conscience
On 26 September, 2005, a Target pharmacist in Fenton, Missouri, refused, for reasons of conscience, to fill a prescription for the morning after pill for a 26 year old woman. Planned Parenthood responded with a nation-wide protest against freedom of conscience. Governor of Missouri, Matthew Blunt, has defended freedom of conscience for health care workers. As a result, he has been accused of "waging war" on women. []
10 January, 2006
Slovak opposition party urges referendum on conscience treaty

Vladimír Mečiar, chairman of the Slovak opposition party Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), is asking for a referendum on the draft treaty between the Slovak Republic and the Holy See. [Slovak Spectator]

6 January, 2006
Federal Court supports nurses against mandatory flu vaccination policy

Registered Nurses who refuse to be vaccinated against the flu will no longer be threatened with dismissal by the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Washington State. A United States District Court upheld an arbitrator's decision against the Center in favour of the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA). Innoculation against the flu can no longer be considered a condition of employment at the hospital. The WSNA supports and encourages flu vaccination among its members, but opposes coercive measures to achieve that end. Barbara Frye, RN, Director of Labor Relations at WSNA, said that the Association advocates "education, accessibility and incentives" to encourage vaccination - "not brute force." While the case did not involve conscientious objection to vaccination, the position of the WSNA offers a reasonable alternative to the suppression of freedom of conscience among health care workers. [Yahoo] [WSNA News Release]