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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude
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April-June, 2007


27 June, 2007
Human-animal hybrids should be regarded as human

A submission by the Catholic bishops of England and Wales illustrates the potential for conflicts of conscience arising from artificial reproductive technology. Although opposed to the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos in the laboratory, the bishops recommend that, if chimeras are conceived, they should be considered human and their genetic mothers should be able to raise them as their own children. [Daily Telegraph 27 June]

25 June, 2007
Case of South African objector continues

South African (Nursing) Sister Wilhelmien Charles will go to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration with her case against a hospital that began in 2004. She had been compelled to participate in abortions, contrary to her religious convictions, and later denied reinstatement on return from maternity leave. [See South African nurse denied position]

21 June, 2007
Former Catholic hospital being re-named

The control of St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, is being transferred from the province's Catholic Health Corporation to thhe Saskatoon Health Region, and will be re-named the Humboldt District Hospital. Transfer of control to state authorities followed a controversy over the hospital's decision to stop tubal ligations because the procedures are contrary to Catholic teaching. The Health Minister decided to take control of the hospital into public hands as a result of public controversy, including the resignation of two physicians over the policy. [Star Phoenix]

20 June, 2007
Polish government to appeal wrongful birth ruling

A ruling by the European Court of Human Rights granting a "wrongful birth" claim will be appealed by the Polish government. Poland was ordered to pay€25,000.00 tp a 34 year old mother who was unable to abort her third child. A spokesman for the SPUC of Northern Ireland asserts that the court ruling held that the woman's rights were violated by the conscientious objection of the doctors involved.

19 June, 2007
Mexican euthanasia proposal

A bill proposed by the majority Democratic Revolution Party in Mexico would allow terminally ill patients or a family member to reject medical care that would prolong life. If this is meant to include the rejection of nutrition and hydration, and not just the rejection of unduly burdensome or useless treatment, it would cause conflicts of conscience among health care workers opposed to euthanasia. Norberto Cardinal Rivera Carrera has spoken out against the bill. [Zenit 19 June, 2007]

12 June, 2007
New Jersey legislators act against conscientious objection

The New Jersey have passed bill S1195 to compel pharmacies to dispense and refer for drugs despite conscientious objections by pharmacists. The bill does not apply to individual pharmacists, so it is still possible, at least in theory, for a pharmacy owner or manager to accommodate conscientious objectors in a practice. However, the bill denies freedom of conscience to pharmacy owners, who may be forced to act against their conscientious convictions.

9 June, 2007
Complaint against Muslim pharmacist in UK

A woman who had to wait 15 minutes for another pharmacist has complained publicly about being refused the morning-after pill by a Muslim pharmacist who objected to the drug for moral or religious reasons. Store officials s. A spokesman for Sainsbury's confirmed that pharmacists had the right to refuse to sell morning-after pills for moral or religious reasons. [Evening Post, Nottingham, 9 June]


31 May, 2007
Oregon Insurance Code includes protection of conscience provision

An amendment to Oregon's insurance code requires employers to provide coverage for contraceptives in insurance plans. There is an exemption for religious employers, though the term is defined to include only employers whose primary purpose is the inculcation of religious values, whose employees are primarily persons who share the employer's faith, that primarily serve persons who share the employer's faith, and that is a non-profit organization. Thus, the protection is not broad enough to encompass Catholic hospitals, which employ and serve people who are not Catholic.

20 May, 2007
Child at centre of court case dies in Texas

Emilio Gonzales, a 19 month old boy, has died at Children's Hospital in Austin, Texas. [See Temporary restraining order granted for child]

17 May, 2007
Survey cited to show support for euthanasia among British physicians

In a survey of 309 general practitioners in the United Kingdom, 42% of the respondents reported that they would "help a patient die" if it were legal to do so, and 30% supported legalization of assisted suicide. The wording of the questions, not specified in the news report, may have been ambiguous with respect to the terms used. It does not appear that any questions were asked about freedom of conscience for health care workers faced with such a demand. [Pulse]

16 May, 2007
Hanging leads to calls for legalization of assisted suicide

The case of a Quebec man who hanged himself with the assistance of his nephew has led to renewed calls for legalization of assisted suicide or euthanasia in Canada. Yvon Bureau, an advocate of legalization, asserts that assisted suicide "must be medical, practised in a strict, secure framework." His expectation of professional medical assistance does not take into account the fact that not all health care personnel will be willing to participate in the procedure. [Canadian Press]

Connecticut demands all hospitals dispense morning after pill

The Governor of Connecticut has signed Senate Bill 1353. It now becomes Public Law 07-24. The bill requires that all hospitals in the state dispense the morning after pill to a rape complainant once a pregnancy test has established that she is not pregnant. However, the bill specifies that the only acceptable pregnancy test is on that has been "approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration." This presents a problem for Catholic hospitals that may use other tests to determine that an embryo has not been conceived. [See Controversy among Catholics over morning-after pill ]

Freedom of conscience movement in Belarus

Over 10,000 signatures have been collected on a petition for freedom of conscience in Belarus. The movement appears to involve many religious believers in the country. [Charter 97]

12 May, 2007
Staff at Catholic hospital reported in rebellion against church teaching

In response to a directive it conform to Catholic teaching on contraception, abortion and artificial reproduction [see Catholic hospital in Britain ordered to stop abortion referrals, contraceptive practices and IVF] medical staff at the Hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth in North London, are reported to be opposed to the introduction of a code of ethics consistent with Catholic teaching. A spokesman for the staff has said that they expect a secular code of ethics will be adopted instead, and that the Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor will resign as hospital patron. Dr Martin Scurr, the chairman of the hospital's ethics committee, has said that the hospital will become a non-Catholic institution. [The Telegraph]

9 May, 2007
Pro-abortion group demands Canadian physicians refer for abortion

An association of abortion providers based in Washington, DC, that has members in Canada, has written to the Canadian Medical Association to protest the CMA policy on referral. The National Abortion Federation claims that the CMA Code of Ethics requires physicians to refer for abortion, and that the current CMA policy (which does not require referral) contradicts the Code [NAF news release] The Federation's accusation was rejected by the CMA. [Doctors asked to change national abortion policy]

8 May, 2007
British GPs speak out on conscientious objection to abortion

A number of physicians interviewed by the Cambridge Evening News expressed support for colleagues who do not wish to facilitate abortion. It appears that there is some difference of opinion about whether or not an objecting physician should refer a patient to another doctor. [Cambridge Evening News] [See Quarter of British physicians reported to refuse part in abortion]

Canadian Medical Association reaffirms policy: referral for abortion not mandatory

The Executive Director of the CMA's Office of Ethics has stated that the authors of a guest editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal were incorrect in stating that physicians who object to abortion are obliged to refer patients to a colleague with a different view. Dr. Jeff Blackmer commented that the subject continues to be debated "within medicine and bioethics". [CMA Bulletin]

Lobbying for euthanasia continues in Britain

The number of British citizens travelling to Switzerland each year for assisted suicide more than doubled from January, 2006. A total of 76 Britons have committed suicide there. The statistics are being cited as proof of the need to legalize euthanasia or assisted suicide in the United Kingdom. [This is London]

7 May, 2007
Eugenic screening of embryos for cosmetic reasons

A British doctor who has obtained permission to screen embryos to prevent the birth of a child with a severe squint has said that he would be willing to screen embryos for other cosmetic reasons, including hair colour, if the birth of the child with the unwanted condition would cause the family distress. [The Telegraph]

5 May, 2007
Court rules against objecting pharmacist

Pharmacist Neil Noesen, who objects to dispensing contraceptives and the morning-after pill, has lost a suit he brought against Wal-Mart. He argued that he should be relieved of all counter and telephone duties unless customers were pre-screened to ensure that they were not seeking birth control. The Wisconsin 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the accommodation Noesen was seeking would cause undue hardship to the company. The company had offered to allow Noesen to assist only male customers and women not of childbearing age but insisted that he follow pharmacy guidelines in answering the phone and waiting on customers.

National Canadian daily draws attention to abortion

An writer in Canada's National Post has acknowledged that politicians and the media will ignore the annual pro-life demonstration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, but that, despite official silence, "there is considerable evidence of confusion, passion and an intensity of opinions" on the subject. The article referred to the controversy caused by a guest editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in July, 2006, in which two law professors asserted that objecting physicians are obliged to refer for abortion. The Post reports that the CMAJ received hundreds of letters on the subject. The Journal's editor-in-chief admitted that abortion is "a very polarizing issue among physicians," while the CMA Director of Ethics observed that letters represented "extremes of opinion," but not "fringe" opinion. [See Responses to "Abortion: Ensuring Access" ] The Post writer expressed surprise "that such an open and free-flowing discussion on this topic is happening at all", noting that such open debate is unusual in Canada. What is of particular interest is that the Post writer recognized that the two law professors had misstated the Canadian Medical Association's position. Contrary to the professors' claims, the CMA does not require objecting physicians to refer for abortion. [National Post]

4 May, 2007
Controversy among Catholics over morning-after pill

Disagreement about dispensing the morning-after pill to rape complainants has arisen in Catholic circles. The president-elect of the Catholic Medical Association, Dr. Kathleen Raviele, is quoted by LifeSiteNews as stating that dispensing the morning-after pill to rape complainants "is not justified" in Catholic hospitals. Dr. Raviele, notes, "The Catholic Medical Association passed a resolution at its annual meeting in 2003 opposing the use of EC after cases of rape because, even if given prior to ovulation, the drug inhibits ovulation only 50% of the time. Its main effect is to alter the endometrium, preventing successful implantation." A statement issued in 2000 by the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life appears to take a similar position.

Under an inflammatory headline ("Bishops Conferences Admit to Approving Abortifacient Drugs for Rape at Catholic Hospitals") LifeSiteNews notes that the Connecticut and Wisconsin Catholic Conferences have acknowledged that the drug is dispensed to rape victims at Catholic hospitals in those states. However, the report fails to note that the Conferences clearly stated their opposition to the use of the drug when it is likely to result in the death of an embryo, and its selective quotation of the Connecticut Conference letter is similarly misleading with respect to the conditions under which the bishops would approve the bill being discussed. [Connecticut Conference Letter] [Wisconsin testimony] While it is agreed that the potentially embryocidal drug may be dispensed if tests establish that conception has not occurred, there is disagreement about what kind of test would establish this with sufficient moral certitude. Dr. Daniel P. Sulmasy, a noted American Catholic ethicist, has published a paper that can be cited to support the position taken by the bishops of Wisconsin and Connecticut. [Emergency contraception for women who have been raped: must Catholics test for ovulation, or is testing for pregnancy morally sufficient?]

3 May, 2007
Quarter of British physicians reported to refuse part in abortion

Pulse, a newspaper for British physicians, has reported that a survey of more than 300 general practitioners found that about one quarter of them refuse to sign abortion "referral" forms, and about 20% thought abortion should not be legal. One physician was reported to have quit his practice over the issue. It appears that the reference to referral concerns the signing of papers required by law from two physicians before abortion can be provided, rather than referral to another physician for treatment.

The accuracy of the survey was questioned by Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who noted that respondents comprised less than 1% of 40,000 general practitioners in the United Kingdom. [The Guardian] However, the survey's results seem consistent with a government audit reported in 2003 that found one in four practices included a conscientious objector to abortion, and one in ten practices would not "refer" for abortion. [Pulse] Again, the reference to referral appears to mean the signing of papers authorizing the procedure.

Abortion supporters within the profession, responding to the survey, demanded that objecting physicians refer patients to willing colleagues. [Pulse] The head of the Royal College of General Practioner's teenage health taskforce, said that conscientious objection to abortion should never have been allowed. [The Guardian] One columnist demanded that objectors be struck off the medical register. [Strike off no abortion GPs]

The demands conflict with the findings of the Twelfth Report of a joint parliamentary committee on human rights. Considering the issue of mandatory referral for euthanasia, the committee wrote, "We consider that imposing such a duty on a physician who invokes the right to conscientiously object is an interference with that physician's right to freedom of conscience under the first sentence of Article 9(1), because it requires the physician to participate in a process to which he or she has a conscientious objection. That right is absolute: interferences with it are not capable of justification under Article 9(2)." [See Conscientious Objection]

2 May, 2007
Objector provides information, not assistance

Dr Tammie Downes, a general practitioner in West Cornwall, won't facilitate abortion by signing papers, but considers it her duty to provide women seeking abortions information and advice. She "won't stand in a woman's way" if she wants an abortion, but has found that a number of them change their minds during discussion, saying that eight of her patients continued their pregnancies and don't regret their decisions. [Daily Mail]


30 April, 2007
2nd assisted suicide bill introduced in Wisconsin

AB298 , a copy of the earlier Senate Bill 151 , has been introduced in the Wisconsin legislature. It would allow for terminally ill competent patients in Wisconsin who are at least18 years old to request and obtain prescriptions for medication to end their lives. The bill does not include protection of conscience provisions for pharmacists or other health care workers. On the contrary: a physician unwilling to fulfill the request is required to initiate transfer the patient to a willing colleague. Many objectors would take issue with a requirement to initiate the transfer process, which goes beyond simply responding when another physician to whom care has been transferred by the patient requests the file. (See Assisted suicide bills require objectors to facilitate assisted suicide)

Catholic bishops in Mexico call for conscientious objection to abortion

Responding to the legalization of abortion in Mexico City, the Catholic Primate of Mexico, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, has called upon health care workers to exercise their right to conscientious objection and refuse to participate in the procedure. The statement, which was read at masses on Sunday, appears to have been a response to assertions by city hospital authorities to the effect that doctors had no choice but to perform abortions. [Associated Press] The Interior Ministry has started legal proceedings against the Catholic Church for violating the Law of Religious Associations and Public Worship.

25 April, 2007
Complicity in torture

A Jesuit priest and author of Torture, Religious Ethics and National Security has made comments relevant to the issue of referral for morally controversial procedures. His comments following publication of allegations by the Globe and Mail that prisoners captured by Canadian troops and turned over to Afghan authorities are being "beaten, starved and otherwise mistreated." Father John Perry, a professor at St. Paul's College at the University of Manitoba stated that Canadian soldiers and the Canadian government "are complicit and morally compromised" if they turn prisoners over to Afghan authorities "knowing they face torture." [CCN]

20 April, 2007
One in 30 survive abortions

A study conducted in hospitals in West Midlands, England has found that about one in 30 babies aborted between 20 and 24 weeks gestation survived the procedure and live an average of 80 minutes. [Daily Mail] The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists responded with a statement that recommends "foeticide" by the lethal injection of the foetus in utero, The statement notes that even this is not 100% effective and advocates palliative care for abortion survivors. The same solution was proposed by the Alberta College of Physicians when conflicts of conscience among nursing staff at Foothills Hospital in Calgary made headlines in Canada. [Foothills Hospital Now Forces Nurses To Participate In Genetic Terminations]

Objecting nurse files lawsuit against Ohio County

Maria T. Sulewski of Sandusky, Ohio, has filed a lawsuit against the Erie County General Health District on the grounds that she was reassigned due to her objections to doing a school presentation ''supporting birth control, safe sex or related matters.'' Sulewski refused to do the presentation because it conflicted with her Catholic beliefs. The Health District claims that the reassignment was a form of accommodation. The reassignment included a reduction in working hours, an increase in the number of schools to be covered, and an increase from four to five working days each week.[Morning Journal]

19 April, 2007
Assisted suicide bill introduced in Wisconsin

SB151 would allow for terminally ill competent patients in Wisconsin who are at least18 years old to request and obtain prescriptions for medication to end their lives. The bill does not include protection of conscience provisions for pharmacists or other health care workers. On the contrary: a physician unwilling to fulfill the request is required to initiate a transfer the patient to a willing colleague. Many objectors would take issue with a requirement to initiate the transfer process, which goes beyond simply responding when another physician to whom care has been transferred by the patient requests the file. (See Assisted suicide bills require objectors to facilitate assisted suicide)

Portuguese bishops support conscientious objectors

In the face of a new law in Portugal legalizing abortion up to the the 10th week of pregnancy, the country's Catholic bishops have spoken against the change in the law and asserted their support for medical professionals who, for reasons of conscience, refuse to become involved with the procedure. [Catholic News Agency]

British doctors advised to declare position on abortion

The head of the Royal College of General Practitioners and a representative of the Medical Ethics Alliance, a British pro-life group, agree that physicians should make their views on abortion known to their patients, thus enabling them to find a doctor whose views are consistent with their own. [Society Guardian]

18 April 2007
Belgian hospitals must be forced to provide or refer for euthanasia

Belgium's ruling party, the Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten (Flemish Liberal Democrats or Open VLD) has announced that it intends to force every hospital in the country to provide euthanasia or to refer patients to facilities that will do so. The party accepts conscientious objection by physicians as long as they are willing to refer patients to more willing colleagues. [Expatica] [Belgium: mandatory referral for euthanasia (December, 2003)]

17 April, 2007
African health ministers approve abortion

The Maputo Protocol, which has been ratified by only 15 of the 53 member-states of the African Union, appears to have been treated as the norm for the continent by health ministers from 40 African countries who met in Johannesburg in the week following Easter Sunday. Article 14 of the Protocol calls for the provision of abortion in cases of "sexual assault, rape, incest,
and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus." The health ministers approved a strategy including 'safe abortion services. . . as far as the law allows." Nigeria and Uganda oppose abortion, which is widely rejected by traditional African culture. [No Place for Abortion in African Traditional Life - Some Reflections (2002)]

16 April, 2007
Catholic hospital in Britain ordered to stop abortion referrals, contraceptive practices and IVF

The Hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth in North London, which has a reputation for serving celebrity patients, has been ordered by Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor to stop practices inconsistent with Catholic teaching. Bishop George Stack of Westminster has joined the ethics committee and will ensure that Catholic teaching is maintained by the facility. A new code of ethics, expected to come into effect in May, will prohibit in vitro fertilization, distribution of contraceptives and referrals for abortion. [Daily Mail] That a nominally Catholic institution would have been involved in services that contradict Catholic teaching demonstrates the potential for conflicts among staff, some of whom may have sought employment at a Catholic institution in the expectation that they would not have to deal with such procedures.

Increasing reluctance to participate in abortion noted among UK physicians

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has identified what it calls a "slow but growing problem": young doctors refusing to facilitate abortion. At the same time, it acknowledged that " it is an important right for any doctor to object to performing abortion."[RCOG Statement] The statement was issued in response to an article in The Independent that stated that the RCOG had warned that an unprecedented number of conscientious objectors "threatens to plunge the abortion service into chaos." [The Independent: Abortion Crisis] It appears that the reporter's claim was based upon statements made by two specialists associated with the College and did not reflect the RCOG's position. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service stated that it was unaware of any documented rise in conscientious objection, and the Department of Health did not believe that conscientious objection by a minority of physicians is reducing access to the procedure. [The Guardian: Intolerant Doctors] [Daily Mail: No Handshakes] [Daily Mail; MoreYoung Doctors Oppose Abortions]

12 April, 2007
Temporary restraining order granted for child

A probate judge in Texas has ordered the Children's Hospital of Austin, Texas, to continue life support for a child, Emilio Gonzales, pending a court hearing set for 19 April, 2007. The hospital ethics committee had ordered that life support be ended, judging it to be a cause of suffering without providing a medical benefit. The boy is believed to have Leigh's Disease and requires assisted ventilation, nutrition and hydration. [The Guardian] The case illustrates the potential for conflicts of conscience among health care workers in such a situation.

Washington pharmacists' freedom of conscience in question

The Washington State Board of Pharmacy has approved rules (WAC 246-869-010) that require pharmacies to dispense all legal medications that are in stock, deliberately excluding any protection of conscience measures. It appears that WAC 246-869-150 could be interpreted to require all pharmacies to stock and dispense contraceptives and the morning-after pill, since it states that a pharmacy "must maintain at all times a representative assortment of drugs in order to meet the pharmaceutical needs of its patients." However, if a pharmacy were to advertise itself as a business that does not dispense contraceptives or the morning-after pill, it could be argued that people seeking such products could not reasonably be counted as being among that pharmacy's patients. In that case, it might be argued that the drugs do not have to be stocked. The new rules require that the prescription for such products be returned to a patient or transferred elsewhere at the patient's request. The latter would be necessary if the prescription were transmitted electronically and not in the patient's possession to begin with. Such an interpretation would allow some room for the exercise of freedom of conscience.

10 April, 2007
Wal-Mart reported to be acting against freedom of conscience for pharmacists

Planned Parenthood has announced that Wal-Mart has adopted a policy that will compel objecting pharmacists to dispense the morning-after pill. []

5 April, 2007
"Stealth" tactics to achieve international right to abortion

An article in the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly alleges that a network of academics, NGOs and supporters in the UN human rights system are attempting to establish that a right to abortion is part of international human rights law. Such a ruling would probably eliminate all legal protection for conscientious objectors to abortion in health care. See Sylva, Douglas and Yoshihara, Susan (Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, New York and Washington, DC) "Rights by Stealth: The Role of UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies in the Campaign for an International Right to Abortion." National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring, 2007, p. 97-128. [See also Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Poland. (UN, Geneva,Switzerland: November, 2004); United Nations, US officials acting oppressively in East Timor (East Timor) (2000);United Nations Committee: Conscientious Objection "an infringement of. . . rights"; ]

3 April, 2007
Brief objects to coercion of physicians to inseminate lesbians

Doctors who are being sued because they refused to artificially inseminate a lesbian are being supported by the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Center has filed an amicus brief because it is concerned that the plaintiff's suit is "a mean-spirited effort to extract a pound of flesh" from physicians who, from religious conviction, "refuse to bow to the homosexual agenda." Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel for the Thomas More Law Center, states, "Forcing doctors to violate their conscience smacks of Nazi Germany. Doctors are not 'needles for hire.'" [News release]

2 April, 2007
US Department of Justice begins protection of religious freedom initiative

The United States Department of Justice has announced the First Freedom Project, designed to strengthen enforcement of laws against religious discrimination and hate crimes, and other laws protecting religious freedom.

1 April, 2007
Eugenic screening for Alzheimer's Disease

A married couple in London, England, will have embryos conceived by in vitro fertilization screened for genes that are believed to predispose people to Alzheimer's Disease. The procedure raises ethical questions both with respect to the selection of "fit" embryos and the destruction others. The couple's doctor dismisses critics of the production of "designer babies" as "silly." [Sunday Times, 1 April]

Austrian court to decide if chimpanzee is human

Expert evidence from primatologists like Jane Goodall, and Professor Volker Sommer of University College London will be introduced in an Austrian court in an attempt to have human rights extended to a 26 year old chimpanzee. Sommer holds that "there are no clear-cut criteria - neither biological, nor mental, nor social." to distinguish human beings from chimpanzees. [The Observer]