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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude
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April-June, 2011


23 June, 2011
Suppression of freedom of conscience in Spain

On June 22, 2011, the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) organized a public hearing at the Council of Europe, entitled "Spain: Violations of Medical Practitioner's Freedom of Conscience". It was conducted with the Spanish Defense Association of Conscientious Objection (ANDOC) and with the support of the European's People's Party. During the hearing, a detailed report of systematic violations of freedom of conscience among health care professionals was released. [See ECLJ to the Council of Europe: Spain violates conscientious freedom of medical practitioners]

20 June, 2011
IUD's praised as birth control method

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has issued a statement that intra-uterine devices and implants - termed "Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives" (LARCs) are the most effective long-term methods of birth control and "safe for use by almost all reproductive-age women." The statement also asserts that "IUDs are not abortifacients". [News release] This claim rests on contested definitions of conception and pregnancy. IUDs are potential embryocides; they can act by causing the death of an embryo by preventing implantation. Health care workers who do not wish to assist in causing the death of an embryo may object to providing the device for this reason.

14 June, 2011
Louisiana Senate removes change to protection of conscience law

An expansion of an existing protection of conscience statute in Louisiana contained in House Bill 636 was removed by the Louisiana Senate. The change leaves the existing law intact. [Times-Picayune]

Organ harvesting following euthanasia in Belgium

A report from Belgium, Initial Experience with Transplantation of Lungs Recovered From Donors After Euthanasia, notes that over 23% of lungs obtained for transplant have been donated by patients following euthanasia. [The Telegraph] Given the controversial nature of euthanasia, the transplantation of organs obtained through euthanasia has the potential to generate conflicts of conscience among transplant teams.

13 June, 2011
Liberty of conscience critical for doctors

Dr. Lachlan Dunjey, founder of Medicine with Morality, an Australian group, told a gathering of 220 Christian doctors and medical professionals meeting in Brisbane, Australia, that freedom of conscience "lies at the very heart of our integrity" and compels doctors "to refuse to participate in treatments they believe to be un-ethical." [Report of address]

4 June, 2011
Pope Benedict XVI: conscience critical to European survival

Speaking to civic, business, and cultural representatives, members of the diplomatic corps and religious leaders in Zagreb, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the theme of conscience. He described the theme as one that "cuts across all the different fields in which you are engaged and it is fundamental for a free and just society, both at national and supranational levels."

Truly, the great achievements of the modern age - the recognition and guarantee of freedom of conscience, of human rights, of the freedom of science and hence of a free society - should be confirmed and developed while keeping reason and freedom open to their transcendent foundation, so as to ensure that these achievements are not undone, as unfortunately happens in not a few cases. The quality of social and civil life and the quality of democracy depend in large measure on this "critical" point - conscience, on the way it is understood and the way it is informed. If, in keeping with the prevailing modern idea, conscience is reduced to the subjective field to which religion and morality have been banished, then the crisis of the West has no remedy and Europe is destined to collapse in on itself. If, on the other hand, conscience is rediscovered as the place in which to listen to truth and good, the place of responsibility before God and before fellow human beings - in other words, the bulwark against all forms of tyranny - then there is hope for the future.

The Pope said that conscience is "the keystone on which to base a culture and build up the common good," and that"by forming consciences . . . the Church makes her most specific and valuable contribution to society." [Text of address]


27 May, 2011
Serious neglect in UK hospitals leads to misery and death of patients

Only half of 12 hospitals inspected in the United Kingdom were found to be providing basic standards of care for patients. In one hospital, physicians were prescribing water for elderly patients to ensure that they would be able to drink. The news report discussing the findings notes that over 800 patients died of dehydration in 2009. It would not be surprising to find conflicts of conscience arising among some helath care workers working in such environments. [Daily Mail]

18 May, 2011
Group identifies threat to freedom of conscience in Philippines RH bill

World Youth Alliance's Asia Pacific office in Manila has posted a new website about the controversial Philippines Reproductive Health bill. World Youth Alliance (WYS) is an international NGO that originates in New York. Christopher White, international director of operations of WYA, has criticized the RH bill because, among other things, it lacks provisions for freedom of conscience and religious practice. On this point he suggests that the bill's critics should "highlight freedom of conscience as an international human right which is universally recognized."

White argues that "when freedom of conscience is suppressed, the beliefs of the majority or of the ruling elites are imposed on all others."

"Freedom of conscience," he writes, "includes the right of healthcare providers to opt out of certain procedures because of their religion or belief. Regrettably, the RH bill does not provide adequate protection of conscience rights to health institutions, individuals, or community health workers." [Faith and reason in the Philippines]

17 May, 2011
European rights advocates support mob wrecking Berlin pharmacy

In an account published by Mercatornet, Dr. Gudrun Kugler, a lawyer from Vienna, Austria, describes her presentation of a report to the European Union's Fundamental Rights Agency. The hostility of the audience was made clear at a number of points, including the following:

Next, I mention the case of a Berlin pharmacist who refuses to sell the morning after pill. Radical feminists smashed his windows and wrecked the pharmacy. "Rightly so,"says another participant of FRA's Fundamental Rights Platform. "He violated the right of access to medical care!" Heavy nodding from the audience.

While breaking the windows of shops operated by hated social groups is not without precedent in Berlin, support for the attack by European Union human rights advocates is disturbing. [See Gudrun, Fundamental rights - or fundamental confusion?]

"Telemedicine": commentary on legal and ethical issues

In the article "Ethical and Regulatory Considerations in Prescribing RU-486," the American Medical Association's Virtual Mentor discusses the on-line prescription of mifapristone as a means of providing abortion services to women in rural areas. The idea is suggested as one way of providing access to services when conscientious objection by available health care workers makes it difficult to obtain abortions.

16 May, 2011
Utah revises protection of conscience statute

A bill introducted by Rep. Carl Wimmer in the Utah legislature has revised the state's protection of conscience statute. Wimmer introduced the bill after being approached by two doctors who told him that there was insufficient legal protection for health care workers who refuse to perform abortions. The revised law now protects both institutions and individual helath care workers.[Universe]

15 May, 2011
Philippines president warns civil disobedience could lead to sedition charges

Responding to statements from Catholic bishops in the Philippines to the effect that passage of the "RH" bill could result in civil disobedience, President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III has said that civil disobedience would be a "serious offence," referring specifically to sedition.[Philippine Daily Inquirer] A Philippines journalist following the story comments that "reproductive health has become the single biggest issue confronting the nation today and could be the tipping point for both P-Noy and the country as a whole." [The Philippine Star] Such reports continue to indicate the probability of conflicts of conscience arising among health care workers if the bill passes. Thus, the failure of the bill to adequately address the issue of freedom of conscience for health care workers is particularly troubling. [See Philippines RH Bill of 2011: the shape of things to come?"]

12 May, 2011
Bishops consider civil disobedience in Philippines

Deogracias Iñiguez Jr., Catholic Bishop of Caloocan, Phiilippines, has warned that if the proposed reproductive health bill becomes law, Catholics will not be obliged to adhere to provisions that are contrary to their faith. Meanwhle, Archbishop Ramon Arguelles has said that dialogue with the president is "useless" and "we're going to have a total war now" against the bill. Another bishop said that while they are not pushing civil disobedience for now, Catholics are obliged not to follow any law that violates their faith. Former president President Fidel V. Ramos has appealed for more civil discourse about the controversial bill. [GMA News] The statements are indicative of the likelihood of conflicts of conscience arising among health care workers if the bill passes. [See Philippines RH Bill of 2011: the shape of things to come?"]

US group raises grounds of conscience in legal intervention

The Bioethics Defense Fund has filed an intervention (amicus brief) in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. The groups urge the appeal court to uphold a decision by a U.S. District Court in Florida that ruled against aspects of the US health care reform law. BDF raises the following point with respect to freedom of conscience:

The "Abortion Premium Mandate" violates conscience and free exercise
rights by forcing enrollees in certain health plans to personally pay a
premium to a private insurer dedicated to covering other people's elective abortions. [Full text of brief][News release]

Swedish Parliament attacks freedom of conscience

The Swedish Parliament debated the recommendations in a report from the Foreign Affairs Committee. Some of these concerned Resolution 1763(2010) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which affirmed support for freedom of conscience for health care workers.

The prospect that medical professionals and health care workers might exercise freedom of conscience horrified the Left Party and alarmed other Swedish political parties. Hence, the Foreign Affairs Committee Report recommended that Parliament advise the Government that it "critical of the content of Resolution 1763 (2010) and considers that the delegation should work to bring about a change in the nature of this resolution."

The Left Party added a "reservation" suggesting that Parliament ask for the abrogation of Resolution 1763. The Sweden Democrats, in contrast, expressed support for the Resolution in a reservation of their own.

The Swedish Parliament rejected the alternatives proposed by both reservations and accepted the recommendation of the Committee. Sweden thus formally set itself against freedom of conscience for health care workers, albeit in language less extreme than that advocated by the Left Party.

10 May, 2011
Ms. Magazine: freedom of conscience leading to rampant substandard care in US

The spring issue of Ms. Magazine includes an article asserts that "substandard care [is] becoming rampant in the US" because of protection of conscience laws, and that Catholic bishops in the United States "are prohibiting doctors from practicing medicine and denying women essential reproductive care." The article cites examples alleged to support the claims: failure to respond appropriately to miscarriages, disciplinary action taken against those who acted to save a woman's life, extra expenses and risks incurred because of refusal to permit sterilization, and failure to end an ectopic pregnancy. The article blames protection of conscience laws that extend "to entire institutions whose "consciences" allow them to withhold medically indicated care."

US Federal Agency dismisses concerns about freedom of conscience

The US Department of Health and Human Services has dismissed concerns that health care workers may be forced to provide contraceptives despite moral objections to contraception or the potentially embryocidal or abortificaient effect of the drugs or devices. It appears that the position of the Department is that freedom of conscience with respect to such drugs should not be protected. [News release]

6 May, 2011
Protection of conscience bill tracking now available in USA

The Freedom2Care coalition web site now offers a Legislative Action Center that utilizes Capwiz to make it easy for users to learn about and track bills, contact their legislators and more. The page can be used to conveniently track the various federal bills related to conscience rights. Organizations that don't utilize Capwiz or a similar program are welcome to link to this web resource and to refer others here for streamlined legislative communications on these bills.

5 May, 2011
American bishops pleased with law that includes protection of conscience

The US Conference of Catholic bishops is pleased that the US House of Representatives has passed the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," which includes protection of conscience provisions. Commenting on that part of the bill, the Conference holds that such measures are essential to guarantee "access to life-saving health care," since forcing health care workers and institutions to participate in abortion would drive many out of health care. [News release]

Philippines bishops withdraw from talks with president

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has withdrawn from talks with President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III on the subject of the controversial "RH bill" that is opposed by the Catholic Church. The bishops oppose the bill primarily for moral reasons associated with the use of contraceptives, but also commented that it "abuses the meanings of 'rights', 'choice', 'freedom', and 'responsible parenthood'" and threaten freedom of conscience and religion. The President recently said publicly that he would support the bill even if doing so led to his excommunication. [ABS-CBN News] [See RH Bill of 2011: the shape of things to come?]

4 May, 2011
Amendment proposed to Louisiana protection of conscience law

An amendment to an existing protection of conscience law in Louisiana has been included in a proposed bill concerning abortion. The amendment would broaden the scope of existing protection by deleting the phrase "to the extent that paient access to health care is not compromised" which now qualifies the guarantee of freedom of conscience.[Times Picayune]

US House of Representatives passes bill that includes conscience protections

The US House of Representatives today passed a the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," which includes a number of protection of conscience provisions. The passage of the bill was applauded by the Alliance of Catholic Health Care. [ACH News release]. A poll released on 3 May by the Christian Medical Association indicates substantial public support for protection of conscience measures. Among other things, the poll found that 77 percent of Americans believe "that healthcare professionals in America [should not be] forced to participate in procedures or practices to which they have moral objections." [CMDA news release ]

Priest suggests improvements to Philippines RH Bill, including conscience protections

A Catholic priest who has expressed concern about the approach being taken by Catholic bishops in opposing the controversial Philippines Reproductive Health Bill has offered suggestions for modifying the bill, including its protection of conscience provisions. [Philippine Daily Inquirer] The current provisions are problematic for several reasons. [See Philippines RH Bill of 2011: the shape of things to come?" ].


27 April, 2011
Scalding rhetoric contributes to Philippines controversy

A legislator backing the controversial reproductive health bill in the Philippines has rejected a statement by a Catholic Archbishop that the bill's supporters are like terrorists responsible for the deaths of innocents.[GMA News] Provisions in the bill would adversely affect freedom of conscience for health care workers unwilling to facilitate contraception or potentially embryocidal birth control meansures, but these are overshadowed by other aspects of the controversy about the bill raging in the country. [See The Philippines "RH Bill" of 2011: the shape of things to come?]

26 April, 2011
BC Civil Liberties Association asserts right to physician assisted suicide

A statement of claim filed by the BC Civil Liberties Association and others in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Canada, has launched a court case to legalize physician assisted suicide in Canada. Of particular concern is the claim that patients have a right to the assistance of health care workers in committing suicide, and the assertion by the physician plaintiff that providing such assistance is a "moral, ethical and professional duty." Thus, the case could adversely affect the interests of health care workers who object to assisted suicide for reasons of conscience. [BCCLA news release]

18 April, 2011
Protection of conscience bill proposed in Alabama

Senate Bill 46, sponsored by Senator Cam Ward, offers protection to health care workers, institutions, and those paying for health care. It would prevent them from being forced to participate in referral, counseling, therapy, testing, diagnosis or prognosis, research, instruction, prescribing, dispensing or administering any device, drug, or medication, surgery, or any other care or treatment to which they object for reasons of conscience.

15 April, 2011
Spanish physician a 'public servant,' denied freedom of conscience

A court in Malaga, Spain, has ruled that a physician in a public medical facility in Antequerea, Spain, is a public employee, and thus his "duty to provide adequate health care" prevails over his conscientious objection to abortion. The report in The Telegraph states that there is a protection of conscience provision in new Spanish abortion law, but this does not appear to be the case [Text of Ley Orgánica 2/2010]. The judge denied that the physician could refuse to refer for abortion for reasons of conscience.

6 April, 2011
US Catholic bishops support federal protection of conscience bill

Daniel Cardinal N. DiNardo, writing on behalf of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has appealed to members of the US House of Representatives to support HR1179 Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011. In his letter he argues that the bill will prevent health care reform measures from being used "to violate the religious freedom and rights of those who offer and purchase health insurance coverage." He does not note that the bill includes a section that would protect individual health care providers.

Illinois ruling supports freedom of conscience for pharmacists

A judge of the Circuit Court sitting in Springfield, Illinois, has ruled that an "emergency" state regulation enacted by the Governor Rod Blagojevich six years ago was intended to prevent pharmacists from acting on their religious convictions. Thus, he held, the regulation violated the state's Health Care Right of Conscience Act, the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. [News release]


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