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Protection of Conscience Project

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January-March, 2009


31 Marcy, 2009
Ontario leadership candidate supports freedom of conscience
Randy Hillier, a Conservative member of the Ontario legislature, has announced that he will run for the leadership of the provincial Conservative Party, seeking the protection of freedom of conscience and the abolition of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. He promises to introduce a Freedom of Association and Conscience Act and replace the OHRC and similar tribunals with real judges in real courts. [Hillier speech]
New prenatal test increases probability of eugenic screening
Chromosomal microarray analysis is a new, non-invasive prenatal genetic test that is capable of detecting genetic abnormalities that cannot be found by other existing tests. It is safer, faster and more accurate than alternative methods. The principal obstacle to its widespread use is the cost ($1,600.00), though a strong proponent of the test argues that it is "cost-effective if couplesare going to terminate." Dr. Arthur Beaudet of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas notes that it is very expensive to care for severely disabled children. Concerns have been raised that the test will lead to more abortions because doctors may feel compelled to provide the test in order to avoid "wrongful birth" lawsuits, while parents will resort to abortion with increasing frequency to avoid the birth of disabled children. If this occurs, there will be increased pressure upon conscientious objectors to abortion in health care. (CMAJ)
30 March, 2009
Colorado and Florida protestors turn out against Obama plan to revoke freedom of conscience
Protestors gathered in front of Catholic hospitals in Colorado and Florida to protest plans by the Obama administration to revoke the HHS protection of conscience regulation. About 40 people appeared outside St. Mary's hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, while a news report put the number outside St. Luke's Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, at about 50. [Daily Sentinel] []

27 March, 2009
Heritage Foundation posts freedom of conscience page for HHS regulation
The Heritage Foundation, an American advocacy group, has posted A Doctor's Right to encourage American citizens to comment in defence of the HHS regulation that the Obama administration plans to revoke.
26 March, 2009
Abortion advocacy group demands compulsory referral in Jamaica

A representative of ASPIRE (Advocates for Safe Parenthood: Improving Reproductive Equity), an activist group from Trinidad, urged a Jamaican parliamentary committee to legalize abortion, and also asserted that physicians who refuse to refer for abortion are failing in their duty to their patients and should be prosecuted. The claim was challenged by a committee member. [Radio Jamaica]

25 March, 2009
Washington Archbishop warns against attack on freedom of conscience
Catholic Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, DC, speaking to members and guests of the John Carroll Society, said, "We have just celebrated doctors who all their lives have had the freedom to exercise medical skills according to their minds, hearts and souls and what they know to be right. All of that is in grave danger." The Archbishop was referring to plans by the Obama administration to revoke a federal protection of conscience regulation. [Catholic News Service]
State is not the source of freedom of conscience, says bishop
The chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, rejects the attempt by the Obama administration to suppress freedom of conscience in health care. "Neither the United States government or the Congress or the administration gives us rights," said Bishop William F. Murphy. "[N]o state has the right to compromise or interfere with human rights." [The Pilot (Boston)]
Canadian professor advocates assisted suicide
Appealing to autonomy and equality, Jocelyn Downie, Canada Research Chair in health law and policy and professor of law and medicine at Dalhousie University, is advocating legalization of assisted suicide. She argues that the sole criteria for permitting assisted suicide should be competence. [Ottawa Citizen]

Downie has argued that physicians are legally and ethically obligated to refer patients for abortion, a position that has been stoutly resisted by dissenting medical professionals. [See Re: "Abortion: Ensuring Access"]There is no principled reason to suppose that Downie would not also advocate compulsory referral for or facilitation of assisted suicide. Legalization of the procedure on these terms would probably generate conflicts of conscience among those expected to provide it or to facilitate it through referral.

24 March, 2009
Idaho House passes protection of conscience measure for pharmacists
The Idaho House of Representatives has passedHB 216, a bill that includes a protection of conscience clause for pharmacists. The bill will now go to the state Senate for consideration. [Idaho Business Review]
British survey shows most physicians oppose assisted suicide
A survey of 4,000 physicians in the United Kingdom indicates that only about one third of them are in favour of assisted suicide or euthanasia. This contrasts sharply with public opinion polls, which suggest that assisted suicide is acceptable to 82% of the population and 62% favour euthanasia. It is reasonable to believe that legalization of either procedure with the expectation of involvement by physicians would create widespread conflicts of conscience within the medical profession. [The Guardian]
22 March, 2009
Northern Ireland government demands referral for abortion
Citing policies of the British General Medical Council, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has issued a guidelines that demand that objecting physicians refer women seeking abortion to doctors who will provide the procedure. [Termination of Pregnancy: The Law and Clinical Practice in Northern Ireland] The demand is likely to be unacceptable to some objecting physicians. It is also argued that, though procedures to save the life of the mother are lawful even if they result in the death of an infant in utero, direct abortion remains a criminal offence in Northern Ireland. This is said to preclude referral for abortion, since it would amount to counselling the commission of a criminal offence.
Illinois bill threatens freedom of conscience, says bishop
The Catholic bishop of Springfield, Illinois, has warned that a new bill (HB2354) in Wisconsin's legislature will suppress freedom of conscience for all health care workers. "This proposed law," said the Most Reverend George J. Lucas, "will drive Catholic doctors and nurses from health care" and make it impossible for Catholic hospitals to operate. [Catholic Times]
17 March, 2009
Euthanasia and assisted suicide legalized in Luxembourg; participation not required
Luxembourg has legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia. The law was passed after a constitutional amendment stripped the state's Grand Duke of his power to veto laws by refusing to sign them. Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg stated last year that he would refuse to sign the bill if it passed the Chamber of Deputies. Article of thenew law states that no one is obliged to participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide. It requires a physician who refuses a request to give the patient the reasons for his refusal in writing within 24 hours, and to transfer the patient's medical file upon request.
16 March, 2009
American cardinal warns of move "from democracy to despotism"
Francis Cardinal George, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has warned that revocation of the federal HHS protection of conscience regulation "would be the first step in moving our country from democracy to despotism." The USSCB has added Conscience Protection Home to it website to provide links to information and resources about the issue. [News Release; Text of Statement]
13 March, 2009
Freedom of conscience website on line in USA
An American website dedicated to freedom of conscience in health care is on line at The site provides a portal to visitors to enable them to submit comments to the Department of Health and Human Services on the Obama administration's plan to revoke a freedom of conscience regulation. Comments to the Department should be sent only by American visitors. Comments must be received by 9 April, 2009.

The site is also collecting stories of the suppression of freedom of conscience among health care workers through discrimination or coercion. Health care workers in need of legal assistance may be connected to legal counsel through the site.

12 March, 2009
New Hampshire assisted suicide bill includes protection of conscience clause
A bill to legalize assisted suicide in New Hampshire [HB0304] includes a provision to the effect that no health care worker is obliged to participate in the procedure. All that is required of an objector is the transfer of the patient's medical file to another practitioner upon request.
11 March, 2009
Catholic hospital in Boston in controversy over contract
Caritas Christi, a Catholic hospital network in Massachusetts, is seeking a state contract to provide health insurance as part of a program that includes insurance coverage for abortion. Boston Globe columnist Michael Paulson reports that Caritas Christi refused to answer questions about what procedures are prohibited by Catholic teaching and how it handles requests for such services. Caritas Christi's failure to respond is being criticized both by Paulson and by some Catholic organizations []. The situation illustrates the problems that can arise for denominational institutions that are dependent on public funds or contracts.
British expert supports harvesting tissue from aborted foetuses
Oxford University stem cell expert Professor Sir Richard Gardner is advocating the harvesting of organs from aborted foetuses for transplant purposes. Adverse reactions to the proposal from some quarters demonstrates that the practice would likely cause conflicts of conscience among health care workers. [[Daily Mail]
8 March, 2009
Repressive law in Australia rejected by Catholic Health group

A former Australian Federal Court judge and a former advisor to the Australian Attorney General have advised Catholic Health Australia that a new law in the state of Victoria contravenes international human rights agreements. The 15 Catholic hospitals in the state will refuse to obey the requirement to refer women for abortions and will challenge the law if taken to court. The federal Attorney General is being asked by various people, including members of his own party, to intervene to overturn the state law. [The Age]

6 March, 2009
Obama administration announces plans to revoke protection of conscience regulation
The Federal Register has published a notice that the Department of Health and Human Services plans to revoke a regulation that supports freedom of conscience in health care. The Department is required to accept public comment for a period ending 9 April, 2009. It is requesting the following responses:

1. Information, including specific examples where feasible, addressing the scope and nature of the problems giving rise to the need for federal rulemaking and how the current rule would resolve those problems;

2. Information, including specific examples where feasible, supporting or refuting allegations that the December 19, 2008 final rule reduces access to information and health care services, particularly by low-income women;

3. Comment on whether the December 19, 2008 final rule provides sufficient
clarity to minimize the potential for harm resulting from any ambiguity and
confusion that may exist because of the rule; and

4. Comment on whether the objectives of the December 19, 2008 final rule
might also be accomplished through non-regulatory means, such as outreach
and education.

Comments can be submitted through or by mail (original and two copies) to

Office of Public Health and Science,
Department of Health and Human
Services, Attention: Rescission Proposal
Comments, Hubert H. Humphrey
Building, 200 Independence Avenue,
SW., Room 716G, Washington, DC

5 March, 2009
Washington State assisted suicide law in effect; objecting hospitals forced to allow referrals
The Washington Death with Dignity Act, approved by Washington State voters last fall, comes into effect this month. The law includesprotection of conscience provisions for health care workers and institutions, but compels objecting hospitals to permit health care workers on their premises to refer for assisted suicide. The New York Times speculates that dozens of hospitals, including public hospitals, will refuse to be involved with assisted suicide. [New York Times]
2 March, 2009
OB/GYN Senator willing to go to jail

Responding to the Obama administration's plans to revoke a protection of conscience regulation, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, and obstetrician and gynaecologist, said that "a lot of us will go to jail" rather than perform abortions. "Let's see them prosecute the first one of us for not doing that." [Catholic News Agency]


26 February, 2009
Alberta regulator warned to respect freedom of conscience

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta has been reminded in an editorial in the Calgary Herald that "doctors have constitutional rights too." The editorial followed reports that some physicians in the province were concerned that new policies being developed by the College might impose a duty to refer for abortion, which would be problematic for many objecting physicians. The paper advised the College to ensure that the wording of its policy respects the constitutional rights of physicians. [Calgarly Herald]

23 February, 2009
Alberta physician expresses concern about proposed guidelines
Edmonton physician Dr. Joan Johnston has written to the Alberta College of Surgeons to protest the wording of draft standards of practice. She is concerned the that proposed standards are intended to force physicians to refer for abortion. A physician for more than 30 years, she said that she would quit medicine before referring a patient for abortion. [CBC News] The Protection of Conscience Project made asubmission to the College in October, 2008, dealing with the issue.
13 February, 2009
Protection of conscience bill introduced in Arizona
Arizona House Bill No. 2564 has been introduced by Rep. Nancy Barto. The bill includes cosmetic amendments to the existing protection of conscience law and a provision that would protect health care workers who refuse to dispense abortifacient drugs or the morning-after pill. [The Arizona Republic]
10 February, 2009
Eluara Englaro dies
Eluara Englaro of Italy died four days after physicians began to withdraw food and fluids to initiate gradual dehydration and starvation. The cause of death is not known.

Englaro had been in what her father termed a "vegetative state" since a car accident 18 years ago. She was transferred to a hospital willing to withdraw food and fluids in order to cause her death in the first week of February. The procedure was authorized by a court ruling and is legally approved in a number of other countries, but is considered euthanasia by many health care workers. In November last year, nuns at the hospice where she was living refused to comply with the ruling. Despite the court ruling, the Italian Minister of Health stated that withdrawal of food and fluids was illegal, and 700 Italian doctors are reported to have signed an open letter insisting that such patients must be provided with nourishment and water. The President of Italy refused to sign an emergency law passed by the government to prevent Englaro from being starved and dehydrated. [Lifesite News, 3 February;10 February] The case illustrates the potential for conflicts of conscience among health care workers in such circumstances.

The transfer of care from objecting health care workers is the practice in Belgium, where euthanasia is legal, and in the states of Washington and Oregon in the United States, where suicide has been legalized. The practice appears to be a workable compromise, on the condition that the transfer is initiated by the patient or a proxy, and objecting health care workers are required to do no more than what is routinely done when care is transferred in other cases.

4 February, 2009
Human cloning in China
Scientists at China's Shandong Stem Cell Engineering Research Center have cloned five human embryos. Four were cloned from cells from healthy donors and the fifth from cells from a patient with Parkinson's Disease. It appears that the researchers intend to explore the use of human embryos as continuing sources of healthy tissue to replace diseased tissue in a donor subject: that a patient would be cloned and his cloned embryos maintained as "factories" for replacement tissue. [Earth Times] The process is morally controversial, as would be the use of tissue derived from it. To the extent that either would require the participation of those not directly involved in cloning, maintenance and manipulation of cloned embryos (who, presumably, have no objections), the procedures may generate conflicts of conscience among those opposed to them on moral or ethical grounds.
3 February, 2009
Catholic Archbishop cites President Obama's inaugural address
Recalling Barak Obama's campaign promise to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, Catholic Archbishop Henry J. Mansel of Connecticut has warned that the Act would "deny conscience rights of physicians, nurses, and hospitals that oppose abortion on religious, moral, and ethical grounds." In this regard he added:

It is particularly disturbing in these days to see the increasing lack of respect for individual conscience. So called "liberal" public office holders, editorial writers, and other journalists are saying boldly that physicians, nurses, and hospitals must be required to provide abortions even if the practice violates their convictions in conscience. Since when is it "liberal" to force a doctor to take the life of an innocent human being? Since when is it "liberal" to take the life of an innocent human being?

Noting that, in his inaugural address, President Obama asserted that Americans have entered a "new era of responsibility" and that they must acknowledge "duties to ourselves, our nations and the world," Archbishop Mansel commented, "Fundamental in our responsibilities is the duty to respect liberty and the rights of conscience." [Catholic Transcript]

Intervenors support US freedom of conscience regulation
Five organizations have petitioned to intervene in defence of a US Dept. of Health and Human Services regulation that is being challenged in three civil suits. Attorneys with Advocates International filed the request on behalf of Concerned Woman for America (CWA), Christian Pharmacists Fellowship International, Care Net, Heartbeat International and the New Jersey Physicians Resource Council. "Our clients are opposing these lawsuits," said, Samuel B. Casey, "because they wrongfully seek to compel health care workers to perform abortions against their ethical and professional judgment or face dire consequences." Casey is General Counsel of Advocates International's Law of Life Project. [News Release]


29 January, 2009
Lesbian couple file complaint against Winnipeg physician
A lesbian couple has complained to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba because a physician in Winnipeg suggested that they should see another physician. It is not clear from news reports that freedom of conscience is an issue in the case. The physician told a reporter that she did not decline to treat them, but told them it would be better for them to see another physician who had experience with the health concerns of lesbians. The complainants claim that the physician has religious objections to homosexual relationships. [Winnipeg Free Press] Even if the complainants are correct on this point, it does not follow that the physician's advice to them was motivated by religious convictions rather than concerns about professional limitations.
Virginia pharmacy target of bill
Virginia House Bill 2373 was proposed on Jan. 14 by delegate David Englin from Virginia's 45th district. It states: "Any pharmacist who refuses to fill a prescription for contraception shall ensure that the patient seeking such contraception is treated in a nonjudgmental manner and is not subjected to indignity, humiliation, or breaches in confidentiality. The pharmacist shall not confiscate a prescription for contraception that he refuses to fill." The bill also requires the posting of a notice that the pharmacy does not provide birth control.

Bill 2373 was tabled, and will not proceed further in this session of the legislature. The bill appears to have been aimed at DMC Pharmacy, of Chantilly, Virginia, which opened last year. The pharmacy adheres to Catholic teaching and does not dispense birth control. However, there was no evidence that any patient attending the pharmacy had suffered any disrespectful or unethical treatment.

DMC Pharmacy management believes that the bill was an anti-Catholic measure and an attempt "to suppress the ability of Catholics and the Catholic Church to practice their moral beliefs." [CNA]

28 January, 2009
Protection of conscience regulation on hold
It is reported that President Obama has directed all federal government departments to freeze any "midnight rules" enacted in the last months of the previous administration. The directive will apparently stop the implementation of the protection of conscience regulation intended to ensure freedom of conscience among health care workers. [Michigan Messenger]
Freedom of Choice Act could lead to civil disobedience
Representative Jerrold Nadler and Senator Barbara Boxer both plan to re-introduce the Freedom of Choice Act, which died with the previous Congress. Neither has indicated when this will occur. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is distributing millions ofpostcards opposing FOCA in English and Spanish. Catholic authorities are asking parishioners to sign the cards, which will be sent to members of Congress. [CBS News]

Bishop Robert N. Lynch, a member of the Catholic Health Association's board of trustees, has affirmed that CHAUSA "is strongly committed to opposing FOCA and (the board) is unanimous that we would do all we could to oppose it," but denies that there are plans to shut down Catholic hospitals if it passes, adding, "There's no sense of ominous danger threatening health care institutions." Similarly, Sister Carol Keehan, CHAUSA president and CEO, states that the previously introduced version of FOCA contained nothing "that would force Catholic hospitals or Catholic personnel to do abortions or to participate in them."

In the event that a new version of FOCA did require all hospitals to provide abortions, Keehan stated that Catholic hospitals would neither close nor compromise their principles. She suggested that their response would be the kind of civil disobedience and legal and political activism that characterized the American civil right movement in the 1950's and 1960's.

Obama's promise to sign the Act has been a source of considerable concern, which has been increased by an anonymous "internet novena" e-mail circulated in January and some internet sites opposed to FOCA that have made false or exaggerated claims. [Catholic News Service]

Proposed U.S. Freedom of Choice Act raises concern
Life Issues Institute has identified controversy over the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) as "the most important battle" coming up in Washington [Link to Life Issues FOCA page]. The bill was introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer in 2007, but would have to be reintroduced during the present congressional sitting as a first step towards becoming law. Boxer intends to do so. Since it purports to entrench a right to abortion in statute, it is possible that courts would interpret it to nullify protection of conscience laws. Extravagant claims made in an anonymous e-mail circulated by some opponents of the bill have led to some confusion. [CBS News] [Catholic News Service]
27 January, 2009
Controversies over treatment of children
The current issue of the Hasting Center Report includes a number of essays concerning controversial medical treatments of children, including blepharoplasty ("Asian eye surgery") for an adopted child, suppression of puberty, and sex-change surgery. [Medical News Today] The essays illustrate the possibility of conflicts of conscience among health care workers asked to provide or facilitate the procedures.
22 January, 2009
US Catholic Bishops advise President Obama of support for protection of conscience regulation
A letter to President Obama from Francis Cardinal George on behalf of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops includes a statement of support for the Dept. of Health and Human Services regulation that the Obama administration plans to revoke. "An Administration committed to faithfully implementing and enforcing the laws of the United States will want to retain this common-sense regulation, which explicitly protects the right of health professionals who favor or oppose abortion to serve the basic health needs of their communities." The Cardinal added, " Suggestions that government involvement in health care will be aimed at denying conscience, or excluding Catholic and other health care providers from participation in serving the public good, could threaten much-needed health care reform at the outset."

Organizations petition to intervene in support of HHS regulation
Attorneys with the Christian Legal Society and the Alliance Defense Fund filed motions to intervene Wednesday in three lawsuits that seek to invalidate a US Department of Health and Human Services regulation protecting medical professionals from discrimination because they refuse to participate in abortions. The ADF and CLS are acting for the Christian Medical Association, Catholic Medical Association, and American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. [News release]

21 January, 2009
Compromise to secure freedom of conscience in pharmacy reported working in Illinois
J. Michael Patton, the executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association, states that the Association has developed policies to accommodate both patients and pharmacists in cases in which pharmacists object to dispensing a drug for reasons of conscience. Similarly, Walgreens, a major pharmacy chain, has developed a company plan to accommodate objectors. Walgreens spokesman Robert Elfinger states that the policy is "well thought out" and "really works." [MedIll Reports]
16 January, 2009
Seven states file suit to suppress federal protection of conscience regulation
Three lawsuits have been filed in US District Court in Connecticut against the US Department of Health and Human Services regulation. One suit was filed by the Attorney General of the state representing the states of Connecticut, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island. In addition, the American Civil Liberties Association launched an action on behalf of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, while the third was commenced by Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The incoming Obama administration is known to be opposed to the regulation, and other efforts are underway to stop it. [Washington Post] [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette] [The Hartford Courant] [The Hill] Reports have not discussed the possibility that the new executive may simply decline to contest the suits.
15 January, 2009
California bill opposes federal protection of conscience regulation
California Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi has put forward Assembly Bill 120 to counter an HHS regulation that is intended to protect freedom of conscience for health care workers. [California Chronicle]
Congressional bill to suppress protection of conscience regulation
Congressman Chris Murphy of Connecticut has announced the introduction of the Protecting Patient and Health Care Act of 2009. The bill is intended to counter a protection of conscience regulation that takes effect just before the inauguration of the new president. [News Release] At the moment, it is identified in Congress as HR 570: To make certain regulations have no force or effect. The text of the bill is not yet available. It has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
12 January, 2009
Legalization of euthanasia recommended in Indian state
Legalization of euthanasia in the Indian state of Kerala is being recommended by a law reform commission headed by a retired supreme court judge, who is a euthanasia advocate. The recommendation has already sparked protest from the local Catholic Church.
9 January, 2009
Montana draft assisted suicide bill includes protection of conscience clause
Apparently in response to a court ruling that approved assisted suicide in Montana, state representative Dick Barrett is preparing a draft bill to regulate the procedure. The bill includes a protection of conscience provision like that found in Oregon and Washington State laws.
8 January, 2009
Montana judge refuses to stay decision authorizing assisted suicide
Judge Dorothy McCarter of Helena, Montana, USA, has refused to stay a ruling she issued in December that asserts that assisted suicide is a "constitutional right." The state Attorney General had requested a stay pending an appeal to the state supreme court. [Billings Gazette] [American Medical News] The establishment of assisted suicide as a "right" may leave objecting health care workers open to civil suits if they decline to participate in or facilitate the procedure.
7 January, 2009
Euthanasia advocate wants U.S. freedom of conscience regulation stopped
Complaining that the pending HHS regulation encourages health care workers "to exercise their idiosyncratic convictions at the expense of patient care," Barbara Coombs Lee is urging Americans to contact members of Congress to have the regulation revoked. Lee is ex officio president of Compassion & Choices (formerly The Hemlock Society), a group that has long advocated for physician assisted suicide and euthanasia. [Huffington Post]
Doctors who refuse assisted suicide said to be "genuinely wicked"
In addition to arguing that physicians and nurses should encourage terminally ill patients to consider suicide, Baroness Mary Warnock has stated that "it is a genuinely wicked thing" for them to disregard explicit requests for assisted suicide. The remarks were made during a debate at All Soul's Unitarian Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland. [Belfast Newsletter]
"Early induction" abortions at Catholic hospital criticized
Ethical guidelines at St. Joseph's Hospital, a Catholic hospital in London, Ontario, permit late term abortions (termed "early inductions") after viability (22-24 weeks gestation) when "lethal anomalies" are present in the fetus. The goal appears to be to bring about premature delivery so that the child will die at or soon after birth. Dilatation and evacuation is not "normally" to be used. It appears that these procedures have been performed at the hospital for twenty years. Rev. Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro, the Rome Director of Human Life International and a Doctor of Dogmatic Theology, has criticized the guidelines as contrary to Catholic teaching [Lifesite News] Similar procedures performed at a state hospital in Calgary, Alberta resulted in significant controversy when nurses were ordered to participate, despite conscientious objections [Nurses At Foothills Hospital Rebel]. There is no indication that conflicts of conscience have arisen at St. Joseph's. However, the different ethical views held by the hospital and by Msgr. Barreiro illustrate the potential for such conflicts.
6 January, 2009
Continuing controversy in Italian case
Epidemiologist Paul Gilusano and Dr. Piero Pirovano of the group Solidarity, Freedom, Justice and Peace have petitioned the Appeals Court of Milan to re-open the case of Eluana Englaro. The court had decreed that assisted nutrition and hydration could be withheld from the disabled woman, who has been what some call a "state of diminished consciousness" and others call a "persistent vegetative state" since a 1992 car accident. Gilusano has also publicly stated that they are ready to sue anyone - physician, relative, or guardian - who causes her death by withdrawing assisted nutrition and hydration. [Lifesite News]
5 January, 2009
"Puberty blocking" drugs recommended
Children as young as 12 should be given puberty-blocking drugs if they believe that they are "transsexual." It is argued that the process would facilitate sex-change operations when they are older, and give them time to think about whether or not they want to develop as a man or woman. The recommendations appear in guidelines issued by the International Endocrine Society in December, 2008. They originate in the experience of a single clinic in the Netherlands. [New Scientist] The proposed treatment is controversial, as is sex-change surgery. In the absence of protection of conscience legislation, both practices can create problems for those who, for reasons of conscience, are opposed to participation in them.
Plans for suppression of U.S. freedom of conscience regulation
Democratic House of Representatives leader Nancy Pelosi is among those who have stated that they will overturn the Department of Health and Human Services protection of conscience regulation that is to take effect just before the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. The regulation has been approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to prevent erosion of freedom of conscience for health care workers. Pelosi said only that she would work with new President Obama to revoke the regulation. Other Democrats - Senators Hilary Clinton and Patty Murray - have introduced legislation to suppress the measure. Congress can also use the Congressional Review Act to accomplish this goal. Attorneys general in some states, including Connecticut and Pennsylvania, oppose the federal regulation. [New Mexico Independent] [Governor of Pennsylvania News Release] [Wolters Kluwer Law and Business commentary]
Less stringent ethical guidelines proposed for research
An article in The Lancet notes that compliance with the Helsinki Declaration ceased to be a requirement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for foreign clinical studies supporting applications for drug licensing. The Helsinki Declaration is a statement produced by the World Medical Association in 1964 to set ethical standards for research involving human beings. The USFDA will now accept overseas research based on the International Conference on Harmonization's Guideline for Good Clinical Practice (GCP), which critics consider a less stringent document and "less morally authoritative." [CBC News]