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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude
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April-June, 2008


26 June, 2008
Romanian case illustrates potential for conflicts of conscience in abortion

An 11 year old girl said to have been the victim of a rape by a 19 year old has been flown to Britain for an abortion in her 21st week of pregnancy. Romanian law permits abortion only up to the 14th week of pregnancy, and only when the mother's life is endanger or in cases of fetal deformity. One Romanian medical panel had approved the procedure, but the second rejected it because there were no medical grounds for it, and the law did not provide for it. A spokesman for the Orthodox Church in Romania expressed support for the family's decision to send the girl to the United Kingdom for an abortion on the grounds that it was an "exceptional case". The situation is reported to have "divided the country"[The Telegraph] and illustrates the potential for conflicts of conscience among health care workers in such circumstances.

25 June, 2008
Elderly man dies naturally in Winnipeg

84-year-old Samuel Golubchuck has died of natural causes in hospital. He was at the centre of a civil suit between the family and Winnipeg Grace Hospital, which had attempted to remove nutrition, hydration and a ventilator against their wishes. One physician had taken over his care, supported by two colleagues also willing to care for him. They replaced three physicians who had quit the intensive care unit rather than continue to provide care for Golubchuk [See Doctors refuse shifts at hospital to avoid care for elderly patient]. The physicians who withdrew were supported by the Manitoba College of Physicians and Surgeons, and by Arthur Schafer, an ethicist at the University of Manitoba. Schafer said that they acted correctly in following their consciences [CBC]. Schafer's position is of interest because he has, at other times, spoken against freedom of conscience for health care workers [See reference in Project Letter to the Editor (Edmonton Sun)]

23 June, 2008
Euthanasia bill omits protection of conscience clause

Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde has introduced private member's Bill C562 in the House of Commons, which would legalize euthanasia in Canada. The bill has no provision to protect health care workers who would refuse to facilitate euthanasia for reasons of conscience.

16 June, 2008
Doctors refuse shifts at hospital to avoid care for elderly patient

Two doctors have withdrawn their critical care services at Grace Hospital in Winnipeg because they disagree with the court order that 84 year old Samuel Golubchuk must continue to receive assisted ventilation, nutrition and hydration pending the outcome of a trial that scheduled for September. The injunction was obtained by Golubchuck's family to prevent the hospital from disconnecting his respirator and cutting off assisted nutrition and hydration. Dr. Anand Kumar had previously withdrawn his services because he considered the court order "in violation of my medical ethics," that the services provided in accordance with it conferred no medical benefit, and are actually harmful because they are uncomfortable and painful. The most recent withdrawals of service appear to go beyond the parameters of conscientious objection, since they are not limited to treatment or care of Mr. Golubchuk but also potentially affect the services available to other patients in the intensive care unit. The lawyer for the Golubchuk family has accused the doctors of attempting to "stigmatize the family for their insistence on keeping the man alive." Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, suggests that the withdrawal of services is an attempt to create a crisis "in order for them to get their way and stop providing treatment." [Globe and Mail, 18 June, 2008] [CBC]

17 June 2008
Specialists in Ecuador denounce abortion

A statement on abortion released by the Ecuadorian Federation of Societies of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FESGO) asserts that the procedure should not be legalized under any circumstances, and that it is always ethically and medically "unacceptable." The statement illustrates the need to consider the consequences of legalization of abortion for the medical profession and the need to include robust legal protection for conscientious objectors if legalization considered.

16 June, 2008
Freedom of conscience viewed with alarm

The decision to open pharmacies that do not carry contraceptives is being characterized as "dangerous" by opponents of freedom of conscience in health care who are unwilling to admit that the United States has room for health care professionals who do not adhere to establishment ethics in all respects. The Washington Post reports that the new initiatives are the result of prosecution, fines and employer pressure on pharmacists who refuse to dispense drugs like the morning after pill for reasons of conscience. Some of the new pharmacies also refuse to sell pornography, tobacco, or rolling papers. [Washington Post]

13 June, 2008
American Medical Association to consider motion against freedom of conscience

The annual meeting of the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association is to consider a motion that would endorse the statutory suppression of freedom of conscience for pharmacists by requiring them to fill all legal prescriptions or refer immediately refer patients elsewhere to have the prescriptions filled. [LifeSite News]

10 June, 2008
Canadian lawyer denies physicians can withdraw care over patient objections

Speaking at a conference at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Jocelyn Downie, the Canada Research Chair of Health Law and Policy asserted that doctors do not have the legal right to withdraw life-sustaining medical treatment against a patient's wishes. The comment has been lauded by some as an unexpected and welcome remark from someone who supports euthanasia and assisted suicide. However, it is not surprising in view of Downie's belief that patient autonomy always trumps freedom of conscience for health care workers. This view led to a controversial joint guest editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal asserting that objecting physicians are ethically and legally obliged to refer patients for abortion. [See Responses to "Abortion: Ensuring Access"]


26 May, 2008
Muslim pharmacist denounced for exercising freedom of conscience

Marie Stopes International in Britain has expressed "outrage" that a Muslim pharmacist at a Sainsbury chemist shop (pharmacy) in Manchester has been permitted to exercise freedom of conscience. The pharmacist refused to provide the morning after pill on the grounds that it was contrary to his religious convictions to provide a drug that could cause the death of an embryo by preventing implantation. He directed the couple to another Sainsbury shop where they could obtain the drug. The customer asserted that if the pharmacist wanted to work according t his religious beliefs he should find another job. [Manchester Evening News] [See Man convicted for berating Muslim pharmacist]

13 May, 2008
Prominent Canadian ethicist supports freedom of conscience in health care

During and interview by David Hodges, Margaret Somerville, founding director, McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, affirmed that physicians have a right to decline to perform certain procedures for religious or moral reasons. [Medical Post]

9 May, 2008
Columbian officials and activists plan to force abortion on objection health care providers

Attorney General Edgardo Maya of Columbia has asked the Health Ministry to investigate San Ignacio Hospital, a Catholic facility that has refused to do abortions. The hospital is being sued [Catholic hospital sued to force it to perform eugenic abortion]. Maya is reported to be dissatisfied that only 40 abortions have been provided in the two years since the Constitutional Court legalized the procedure in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity or threats to a mother's life or health. He is said to be planning to force even private hospitals to provide the procedure, despite conscientious objection by health care workers. Woman's Link Worldwide has also complained that physicians are refusing to perform the procedure for reasons of conscience.

6 May, 2008
Jamaican nurses promise "agitation and opposition" to abortion

The Nurses Association of Jamaica has promised the government that it will engage in "extensive agitation and opposition" if it attempts to legalize abortion in the country. Strong opposition has already been expressed by Jamaican religious leaders. The statements illustrate the potential for conflicts of conscience should legalization proceed, and demonstrate the importance of protection of conscience legislation.

1 May, 2008
Council of Europe official demands change in Irish abortion law

Mr Thomas Hammarberg, human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe,
has said that Ireland must introduce legislation for abortion based on the
1992 "X case" and on the 1983 pro-life amendment to the constitution. Mr
Hammarberg wants Irish law changed to allow abortion. He said that if
abortion legislation is not passed, Ireland may face [further] cases in
the European Court of Human Rights which has already ruled against Irish
abortion law in the past. Mr Hammarberg claimed that vulnerable women such
as under-age girls and migrants were suffering "serious consequences."
[Irish Independent, 1 May] Evidence taken by an Irish parliamentary committee indicates that the majority of physicians in Ireland would refuse to perform abortions [Conscientious objection in Ireland]


23 April, 2008
Wisconsin pharmacist appeals

Pharmacist Neil Noesen is appealing a reprimand and limitations on his license to practise pharmacy imposed by the Wisconsin Pharmacy Examining Board. The appeal will go to the state Supreme Court following decisions by a Wisconsin Circuit Court and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals that upheld the decision of the Board. [Daily Cardinal]

18 April, 2008
Canadian internationalist proposes Freedom of Religion and Conscience Act

Iain Benson, executive director of the Canada-based Centre for Cultural Renewal, has recommended that Canada follow the lead of South Africa in developing a charter to ensure respect for freedom of conscience and religion in Canada. The issue has become particularly important in the country because of the legal effect given by the Supreme Court of Canada and other superior courts to Canada's relatively new Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1984), and because of the broad powers of provincial and federal human rights commissions to suppress words and/or deeds that the commissions deem discriminatory, or which they believe may encourage discrimination. Attacks on freedom of expression and freedom of religion through the human rights commissions have become increasingly frequent, particularly since court decisions and the Civil Marriage Act made it possible for persons of the same sex to legally register marriages to each other. The Supreme Court of Canada invoked the Charter of Rights when it struck down all restrictions on abortion in Canada in 1988, and activists are increasingly citing the Charter and human rights decisions in an attempt to establish a "right" to abortion and other morally controversial medical services, and a corresponding obligation on health care professionals to facilitate such procedures by referral, or to provide them themselves.

After consulting Benson, some South African Christian leaders drew up a four-page Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms, which was later reviewed, amended and unanimously approved by representatives of 50 different South African religions. In 'Taking a Fresh Look at Religion and Public Policy in Canada,' Benson proposes that something similar should be done in Canada. [Canadian Christianity]

17 April, 2008
Canadian MP introduces protection of conscience bill

Maurice Vellacott, a Canadian Member of Parliament, has again introduced a protection of conscience bill in the Canadian House of Commons. Bill C-537 replicates earlier bills he had proposed that failed to pass.

15 April, 2008
EU Council pressures Ireland, Malta and Poland

A committee of the European parliament has called for compulsory sex education for young people and unrestricted access to abortion. Ireland, Malta and Poland were criticized because of legal restrictions on abortion in those countries. [Times of Malta, 15 April] The removal of restrictions would have a significant impact on conscientious objectors to the procedure.

14 April, 2008
ACOG reconsidering its attack on freedom of conscience

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has issued a statement to the effect that it will review a demand from its ethics committee that physicians who object to a procedure for reasons of conscience must facilitate it by referral or provide it themselves when referral is not possible. The ethics committee opinion generated strong opposition [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists attacks freedom of conscience;Pro-Life OB-GYN association defends freedom of conscience ], and further alarm was raised when it appeared that the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology would make compliance with the ACOG committee opinion a requirement for certification [ACOG attack on freedom of conscience challenged by US Health Secretary]. However, ABOG Executive Director Norman F. Gant, MD denied that abortion would be an issue in any of its requirements or exams. The report does not refer to the ABOG position on contraception. News from the ACOG and ABOG satisfied the American US Health and Human Services Secretary, but was insufficient to relieve the concerns of Dr. Joe DeCook, vice-president of the American Assn. of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, nor Gene Rudd, MD, vice president of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations. [American Medical News]

9 April, 2008
Euthanasia sought in India

A 30 year old man paralysed as a result of an accident is petitioning the President of India for a cure or for euthanasia. He states that he is no longer able to support his mother, wife and children. [New Kerala, 9 April, 2008]

Majority in South Africa oppose abortion

A survey by the Human Sciences Research Council reveals that 90% of South Africans oppose abortion, though it has been legal in the country for 12 years. [IOL, 9 April, 2008] The survey demonstrates the probability of conflicts of conscience among health care workers in the country.

3 April, 2008
Freedom of conscience in Italian health care threatened

The health manager for a Pisa public health clinic and hospital will question two doctors as a result of complaints from two women. One complained about a notice on the clinic door to the effect that the morning-after pill was not prescribed there. A second complained that she was refused the drug by a doctor on an emergency ward. The health manager claims that dispensing or prescribing the morning after pill "has got nothing to do with the issue of conscientious objection." A regional councillor described access to the morning after pill as a "right" that physicians must respect. Others have defended freedom of conscience for health care workers. [CNS]

Parliamentary committee on assisted suicide promised

Responding to a request for a royal commission on assisted suicide, the Scots Minister of Health agreed that a parliamentary committee could study the issue. [Southern Reporter, 3 April]