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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude
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January-March, 2010


30 March, 2010
Idaho protection of conscience bill becomes law

The Governor of Idaho has signed Idaho Senate Bill 1353, which now becomes law in the state. [Lifenews]

26 March, 2010
Health care reform bill and hostility of US administration to freedom of conscience

Citing the case of a New York nurse who was compelled to participate in an abortion, an American commentator states that the Obama administration's policies give "a green light for federally-funded governments and hospitals to violate the conscience rights of pro-life health providers-and for HHS itself to break the law." Matt Bowman also asserts that the protection of conscience measures in the health care reform bill just passed are inadequate.[Washington Examiner]

25 March, 2010
Quebec government threatens to deny health care to Muslim women

A bill proposed by the government of Quebec will deny public services, including health care at hospitals, to Muslim women who wear a niqab (head and face covering). The government appears to be using access public services, including access to health care, as a means to enforce government policy that is unrelated to the practice of medicine. What is remarkable is that the bill has not elicited complaints from groups that do not hesitate to level charges of discrimination and "denying access to health care" against health care workers who refuse to provide abortion or other controversial services for reasons of conscience. [The Star]

24 March, 2010
New British regulator plans further consultation on freedom of conscience

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), a newly-formed regulatory authority in the the United Kingdom, will will take over regulation of pharmacists from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society this year. The Council has announced that draft standards of practice will be issued for public consultation and will include "conscience clause." The announcement has been greeted with criticism from groups like the National Secular Society that oppose freedom of conscience in health care. [BBC]

22 March, 2010
Lawsuits underway in US to protect freedom of conscience

Laywers with the Alliance Defense Fund and the Christian Legal Society are continuing litigation in three lawsuits to defend a Department of Health and Human Services protection of conscience regulation against state governments that are suing to invalidate it. The lawyers are acting for Concerned Woman for America (CWA), Christian Pharmacists Fellowship International, Care Net, Heartbeat International, the New Jersey Physicians Resource Council, Christian Medical Association, Catholic Medical Association, and American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ADF attorneys are also pressing for enforcement of the regulation in the case of a nurse who was forced to assist in an abortion at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. [ADF news release] [Advocates International news release]

Christian Medical Association: health care reform law threatens freedom of conscience

Noting that the health care reform bill passed by the US Senate lacks adequate protection of conscience measures, the Christian Medical Association is warning that the new law "opens the door to an increase in discrimination against physicians, hospitals and clinics that decline to participate in abortion and other morally controversial procedures." This may drive health care professionals from medicine and reduce access to medical care. [CMA news release]

US President uses executive order to gain passage of health care reform bill

President Barack Obama has gained the votes necessary to secure passage of the health care reform bill by signing an Executive Order. With respect to protection of conscience, the Order states:

"Under the Act, longstanding Federal laws to protect conscience (such as the Church Amendment, 42 U.S.C. §300a-7, and the Weldon Amendment, Pub. L. No. 111-8, §508(d)(1) (2009)) remain intact and new protections prohibit discrimination against health care facilities and health care providers because of an unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions." [Full text]

Critics have pointed out that the order does nothing to ensure protection of conscience in health care, but merely takes note of existing federal laws. They also state that the protection of conscience provisions in the bill prohibit discrimination by health care plans, but not governments. Finally, they note that an Executive Order cannot override a statute, and can be amended or cancelled at any time.[Inside Story from Capital Hill]

On the other hand, the Obama administration is committed to revoking the regulation that was meant to give practical effect to those laws. In a current case in New York, Mount Sinai Hospital claims that a nurse who was forced to participate in an abortion has no right of action under the federal law cited in the Executive Order [ADF rebuts NY hospital's claim that pro-life nurse can't sue].

17 March, 2010
Idaho protection of conscience bill passes

Idaho Senate Bill 1353 has been passed by the Idaho House of Representatives and now proceeds to the state Governor for his signature. [Spokesman Review] The American Association of Retired People (AARP) continues to oppose the bill. [Idaho Reporter]

16 March, 2010
Health care reform bill does not protect conscience, say Catholic bishops

In Washington Post blog "On Faith," spokesmen for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have stated that the health care reform bill now before the US Senate is unacceptable because it lacks conscience protections for individuals and institutions, fails to provide for immigrants and will provide funding for abortion. [Washington Post]

15 March, 2010
Christian Medical Association rejects health care reform bill

Citing the failure to provide protection for freedom of conscience in health care and concerns about funding of abortion, the 17,000 member Christian Medical Association in the United States has issued a statement calling upon lawmakers to reject the health reform bill now before the U.S. Senate.[News Release]

Vietnamese physicians experience stress from rise in abortion rate

A news report from Viet Nam, which does not prohibit abortion, states that "psychological trauma" experienced by physicians "could emerge as an important issue with the rapidly increasing number of people seeking to have abortions. " Dr. Nguyen Thi Hong Minh, director of the Central Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital in Hanoi, described her adverse reaction to having to perform abortions at 20-22 weeks gestation. [Than Nien News] While there is no indication in the report that physicians are compelled to provide abortions, their adverse reactions highlight the importance of protection of conscience legislation.

11 March, 2010
Protection of conscience bill passes Idaho committee

Idaho Senate Bill 1353, has been passed by a committee of the Idaho House of Representatives and will be considered by the full House. [CNBC]

10 March, 2010
Complaint against objecting pharmacist in United Kingdom

A woman is complaining that she was refused the contraceptive pill by a pharmacist at a Lloyd's Pharmacy in Sheffield, England, who had religious objections to the drug. The woman was told that she could return the next day to get the drug from another pharmacist, but was not satisfied with that. [BBC]

Assisted suicide for elderly tired of life proposed in Holland

As a result of a petition that gathered over 100,000 signatures, the Ducth parliament will consider legalizing assisted suicide in the case of anyone over 70 years old who no longer want to live, whether or not they are ill. Non-medical suicide assistants would be trained to help them take a lethal drug. [Daily Mail] While this would appear to reduce the likelihood of conflicts of conscience in the medical profession among those who do not want to participate in the procedure, it is doubtful that conflicts will be entirely eliminated. It is likely that there would be demands for referral and other forms of indirect participation by objectors, inside and outside the medical profession.[See Belgium: mandatory referral for euthanasia (December, 2003)]

9 March, 2010
Judge approves sterilization of eleven year old girl

An Australian Family Court judge has approved the sterilization of a severely disabled eleven year old girl. It is not clear from the news report whether the procedure is sought to prevent pregnancy or to prevent epileptic seizures during heavy menstrual periods. Disability rights groups are divided in their responses to the ruling. [Sydney Morning Herald]. Depending upon the circumstances, such cases could give rise to conscientious objection among health care workers.

2 March, 2010
Catholic health care workers advised to consider leaving Catholic health care

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, speaking to an audience of Catholic health care professionals in Houston, Texas, stated that there is an increasing danger that Catholics who adhere to Catholic Church teaching will be excluded from health care professions as a result of an increasing tendency to subordinate the Church to the state. "There's no more room in American life," he said, "for easy or tepid faith." One consequence of this, he suggested, is that those working in Catholic health care who have objections of conscience to Catholic teaching should consider leaving Catholic health care to pursue their occupations. "What really can't work is staying within Catholic health care and not respecting its religious and moral principles with all your skill, and all your heart." [Text of address]

1 March, 2010
American Psychological Association revisits Code of Ethics

The American Psychological Association has removed a clause in its Code of Ethics that permitted state laws and regulations to override the ethical obligations of its members. The clause was first inserted into the Code in 2002 and was used to justify the participation of psychologists in abusive interrogations in Guantanamo Bay. The Code still includes a clause that permits members to ignore ethical obligations in research on the basis of state law.[APA removes Nuremburg Defense] The development is of interest because of repeated claims that health care workers are obliged to set aside conscientious objections with respect to any "legal" service or procedure.

Physician participation in compulsory castration

A University of Oxford blog on Practical Ethics discusses an editorial in the British Medical Journal (Grubin D, Beech A, BMJ 2010; 340:c74)about compulsory chemical castration of sex offenders and the participation of physicians in the process. [Castration and Conscience]


26 February, 2010
Protection of conscience bill passes Idaho Senate

By a vote of 21-13 the Idaho Senate passed Idaho Senate Bill 1353, which replaced SB1270, an earlier version of the bill.[KPVI News]

25 February, 2010
United Kingdom guidance on assisted suicide prosecution

Britain's Director of Public Prosecutions has published guidelines to assist Crown Counsel in England and Wales to decide whether or not to lay criminal charges in cases of assisted suicide.

23 February, 2010
Catholic Medical Association underlines importance of freedom of conscience

Addressing the American Congress and U.S. President Obama on the subject of health care reform, the Catholic Medical Association of the United States emphasized that there is "no right more central to American constitutional order than the right to freedom of conscience and religion." [CMA statement]

20 February, 2010
New Zealand physicians challenge statement by Medical Council

A group of New Zealand physicians has launched a court challenge to a statement of policy proposed by the New Zealand Medical Council, the country's regulatory authority. The Council states that the Statement on Beliefs and Medical Practice was developed to provide guidance to physicians in cases where their "rights" are apparently in conflict with "rights" of a patient. The Council has agreed not to publish the statement pending the decision of the court, but what appears to be a copy of the statement has been posted by New Zealand Right to Life. [News Release] [Statement on Beliefs and Medical Practice]

16 February, 2010
Spokesman for Quebec physician regulator favours euthanasia

Gaétan Barrette and Yves Lamontagne of the Quebec College of Physicians, the regulatory authority for physicians in the province of Quebec, told a committee of the province's National Assembly that Quebec physicians favour euthanasia but not assisted suicide, though Barrette acknowledged that some physicians would refuse to participate in euthanasia. Barrette claimed that euthanasia is already being practised in hospitals in the province. [Montreal Gazette]

Hospital in Oregon declared no longer Catholic

St. Charles Medical Center, in Bend, Oregon, which was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph, has been formally declared a non-Catholic facility by the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Baker, Oregon. The declaration follows the decision of the hospital to provide tubal ligations in violation of Catholic teaching. The hospital became a community non-profit institution about thirty years ago. For some reason, James Diegel, president of the company that owns the hospital, stated that the institution will continue to be guided by "Catholic values," an assertion that cannot be squared with the declaration of the bishop of the diocese. [KTVZ News] No reference was made to the problem of conscientious objection by medical professionals who wish to adhere to Catholic teaching that conflicts with the "values" espoused by Diegel.

11 February, 2010
Northern Ireland re-issues abortion guidelines despite court ruling

Northern Ireland's Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has re-issued guidelines on abortion for Northern Ireland, despite a court ruling to the effect that the guidelines were defective and should be withdrawn. The re-issued version of the guidelines is without sections on non-directive counselling and conscientious objection by medical personnel removed [LifeSite News][See Northern Ireland abortion guidelines rejected by court]

2 February, 2010
British poll shows support for assisted suicide

A poll of about 2,000 Britons has disclosed that about three quarters favour legalizing assisted suicide, while 80% oppose prosecution of relatives who have assisted terminally ill people who want to commit suicide. Euthanasia and assisted suicide advocates continue to press for a change in the law, and poll may be indicative of increasing public support for the procedure [The Telegraph]. In the absence of robust protection of conscience legislation, legalization would likely have an an adverse impact on conscientious objectors within the medical profession.

Idaho bill under review

A protection of conscience bill in the Idaho Senate is reported to be under review by its sponsors, with a view to the introduction of a revised version. [Idaho Statesman] See Protection of conscience bill introduced in Idaho.


30 January, 2010
Canadian commits suicide in Swiss facility

An 89 year old Canadian woman has committed suicide at the Dignitas facility in Switzerland. Kathleen Carter was suffering from spinal tenosis, a degenerative condition incorrectly described as "terminal" in news reports of the incident. She was accompanied by family members. Her plans were not made public because of concern that a police investigation would be triggered over possible aiding and abetting by those supporting her. She is reported to be the tenth Canadian to have committed suicide at the Dignitas facility. Her death is being cited as a reason to legalize assisted suicide in Canada, [Canwest] which would likely have significant implications for health care workers opposed to the procedure.

26 January, 2010
Alberta political party promises protection of conscience law

The Wild Rose Alliance, a new political party in Alberta, has stated that it will enact legislation "to protect the 'conscience rights' of health care professionals." [Policies]

Human rights group demands restriction of freedom of conscience in Ireland

Human Rights Watch has issued a report that demands that Ireland decriminalize abortion and require the procedure to be provided as part of health care. The report claims that abortion is a human right. Human Rights Watch insists that conscientious objection to abortion be controlled by government guidelines, that any health care institution receiving public funding have staff members willing to perform abortions, that institutions should be compelled to provide abortions, and that objecting physicians should be forced to refer patients for the procedure.

US Catholic bishops insist on protection of conscience in health care reform

In a letter to Congress, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops affirms its commitment to health care reform, but insists that effective protection of conscience provisions must be included. The bishops state that the provisions in both bills before Congress are inadequate: "It is critical that the final bill retain the freedom of conscience that insurers, purchasers, plan sponsors, and health care providers currently have under federal law."

Protection of conscience bill introduced in Idaho

Bill 1270, introduced in the Idaho Senate, would prevent health care workers from being forced to participate in, counsel for or refer for abortion, dispensation of an abortifacient drug or drugs that may act as abortifacients, human embryonic stem cell research, human embryo cloning, euthanasia orassisted suicide.

20 January, 2010
No protection of conscience provision in Scots suicide bill

A bill proposed by a member of the Scottish Parliament, Margo MacDonald, would legalize assisted suicide in Scotland for anyone aged 16 and over suffering from a terminal illness or incurable physical disability that precludes independent living. While the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill requires that the medical practitioner must be in agreement with the patient seeking assisted suicide, it does not include a protection of conscience provision to protect objecting health care workers.

19 January, 2010
Massachusetts Attorney General loses senate race

Attorney General Martha Coakley of Massachusetts, who provoked angry reactions by suggesting that objecting health care workers should not work in emergency rooms, has been defeated in the election for the senate seat vacated by the death of Edward Kennedy. Coackley's defeat is expected to make passage of health care reform bills more difficult.

Royal College of Physicians rejects assisted suicide guidelines

The Royal College of Physicians has sent a strongly worded letter to Britain's Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), stating that physicians who assist in suicide should be prosecuted. The College was responding to interim guidelines issued by the DPP to give direction as to when charges of assisted suicide should and should not be laid. Among other things, the College protested that the guidelines discriminated against the disabled, whose death, according to the guidelines, would be less likely to result in prosecution. [Telegraph] The reaction indicates the conflicts of conscience likely to arise within the medical profession if the procedure were legalized.

14 January, 2010
Massachusetts Attorney General: objectors shouldn't work in emergency rooms

Martha Coakley is Attorney General of Massachusetts and Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. During a radio interview she stated that people should not work in emergency rooms if they are unwilling to provide the morning after pill, and also said that she would not support a bill that permitted conscientious objection to "legal" procedures and services. [Details]

12 January, 2010
US Catholic bishops call for changes to health reform bill

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched a nationwide campaign in an effort to secure changes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that passed the US Senate in December. The focus of their attention is funding of abortion, which they consider to be unacceptable. However, they also express concern about lack of adequate protection for freedom of conscience in the bill. [USCCB News Release][USCCB on health care reform]

Should physicians assist with compulsory castration?

An editorial in the British Medical Journal (Grubin D, Beech A, BMJ 2010; 340:c74)about compulsory chemical castration of sex offenders and the participation of physicians in the process asserts that doctors should avoid becoming agents of social control.

5 January, 2010
Praise for new heads of presidential bioethics commission

President Obama's decision to appoint Amy Gutman and James Wagner as Chair and Vice Chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues was "inspired," says F. Daniel Davis. Davis was executive director of the President's Council on Bioethics from January 2006 to September 2009. Responding to criticism that the previous Commission had been too philosophical and not sufficiently policy-oriented, Davis argues that it is reasonable to believe that the Commission can, if properly structured, pursue both practical policy options and "deep" philosophical discussion. [Bioethics Forum]