Conscientious objection obstacle to safe terminations: Qld Government

Concerns have been raised that increasing numbers of doctors with objections to abortion may threaten a woman’s ability to seek a termination

NewsGP

The head of the State Government’s healthcare improvement agency, Clinical Excellence Queensland, recently wrote to the RACGP calling for better management of conscientious objection to termination of pregnancy.

But the RACGP [Royal Australian College of General Practitioners] maintained its view that conscientious objection is necessary. . . [Full text]

Protection of conscience an issue in backbench revolt on Australian abortion bill

Demand for compulsory referral by objecting physicians among provisions deemed unacceptable

Sean Murphy*

Two Liberal Members of Parliament in New South Wales, Australia, have threatened to break with their party cross the floor to sit in opposition if the government does not make changes to a bill decriminalizing abortion (the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019). Should they do so, the government will lose its parliamentary majority.

Among the amendments Tanya Davies and Kevin Conolly are seeking is removal of a requirement that objecting physicians provide patients with contact information for non-objecting colleagues.

If the bill passes unamended, a physician will be free to fully exercise freedom of conscience at 22 weeks plus one day (when there is no requirement to provide contact information), but not at 22 weeks minus one day (when the bill requires contact information to be supplied.)  The inexact calculation of gestational age contributes further to the arbitrariness of this restriction of fundamental human freedom. (See Abortion bill in New South Wales a global first)

Coalition’s religious discrimination bill goes far, but not far enough

The Sydney Morning Herald

Reproduced with permission

Xavier Symons*

It is no surprise that the Religious Discrimination Bill is being criticised as too strong by aggressive secularists and too weak by people of faith. Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter describes the bill as a “shield against discrimination”, not a sword.

The fundamental point is that this is not a religious freedom bill. It is a religious discrimination bill with a narrow focus on a very specific set of issues.

It characterises religious belief as a “protected attribute” of individuals akin to age, sex or sexual orientation. This is unlikely to satisfy many religious stakeholders who believe that religion is a positive good, not just for individuals (like sexual orientation), but also for communities. . . [Full text]

Australia’s legislative laboratory for euthanasia

BioEdge

Michael Cook

The Labor-majority Parliament of the Australian state of Victoria passed assisted dying legislation in December 2017. This came into effect in June and the first patient has already died. Applications from a dozen or so Victorians have already been approved. Two other Labor states are also debating euthanasia – and it appears that their legislation will be even more permissive than Victoria’s.

According to critics of euthanasia interviewed by The Australian, this is “death creep”, the slippery slope in action.

“There is serious concern about this slippage,” the chair of the Australian Medical Association’s ethics and medico legal committee, Chris Moye, says. “A lot of this (change) was happening even before the Victorian law, which is only two months old, has actually been tested. At this point, we haven’t seen how assisted dying works in Victoria and yet the slippage is happening across these various jurisdictions. I think there are two reasons: people were always going to be looking at it (the Victorian law) and the tendency always is to relax legislation.”

Critics focus on details of a proposed bill in the parliament of Western Australia. In Victoria, doctors are not allowed to raise the topic of assisted dying. But in WA, doctors would be permitted to suggest the possibility of euthanasia and no specialist has to be involved.

Conscientious objection is more difficult as well. In Victoria, objecting doctors are not obliged to refer the person on; in WA they would be.

In Queensland, a parliamentary committee is studying draft legislation. This is even more permissive than Victoria’s or WA’s. There is no time requirement – only that the patient have an incurable terminal illness which is causing intolerable and enduring suffering.

However, Professor Ben White, who helped write Queensland draft bill,  dismisses fears of a “slippery slope”. “When people talk about a slippery slope in terms of the law, they are talking about law X in a particular state or country that is enacted and over time gets changed,” he says. “We live in a federation … and there are differences in laws from one state to another, reflecting a range of factors, including geography. What might be appropriate for a state like Victoria might … require different solutions in Western Australia or Queensland.”


This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

Doctors fear state law may veto their objections

The Australian

30 August, 2019

Rosie Lewis

Religious doctors in Victoria and Queensland may still be compelled to refer a patient for an abortion under the Morrison government’s proposed religious ­discrimination bill if they conscientiously object to the procedure, triggering concerns among some legal experts.

The exposure draft bill, released yesterday by Attorney-General Christian Porter, is designed to ensure health practitioners do not have to participate in an abortion or euthanasia, or prescribe contraception to a patient, if they are opposed on religious grounds. . . [Full text]

Australia launches inquiry into safety and ethics of transgender medicine

BioEdge

Michael Cook

A national inquiry into the safety and ethics of transgender medicine will be conducted by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians with the backing of Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.

At the moment there are no nationally agreed standards, although guidelines issued by Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital gender clinic have been referred to as the “Australian standards”. However, this document, which has been described as the “most progressive” in the world by Victoria’s Minister for Health, has not been approved by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

The RCH model commits doctors to the controversial policy of reducing“mental illness in trans and gender diverse children by affirming and protecting their identity in a world where many judge and hurt them”.

According to an exclusive article in The Australian about the inquiry, “Critics say the 2018 standards encourage risky medical treatment without properly considering safer therapies such as counselling for problems such as depression, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, bullying and family conflict. The RCH standards overplay evidence for medical treatment and downplay risks, say ‘dissident’ clinicians.”

The opposing sides of the debate over transgender Australian youth differ on fundamental issues.

Michelle Telfer, director of the Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Service in Melbourne, told The Australian that commencing medical intervention as young as 13 or 14 was “not at all controversial within those with expertise because we all know that we have been doing this for years”.

Critics question whether gender dysphoria is really understood.

“Far be it from anybody to say that there are absolutely no people in the world who are genuinely gender dysphoric and who find it impossible to live in their biological sex,” said Dr Dianna Kenny, a psychologist. “What I’m saying is it’s been massively and irresponsibly over-diagnosed … (these children and teens) are going to be irrevocably damaged by the treatment they received.”

And the ethics of irreversible medical treatment have not been settled. “Who gave ethics approval for this treatment (at children’s hospitals) when it lacks any scientific basis and therefore is an experiment?” asks Prof John Whitehall, of Western Sydney University. “We should give the psychiatry and psychology a full run before we start castrating children.”


This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation to BioEdge. Commercial media must contact BioEdge for permission and fees.

Drafting error in abortion bill

Eternity

John Sandeman

The “Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 – which decriminalises abortion in NSW – has a drafting error in it, according to Freedom For Faith‘s Michael Kellahan.

The drafting error makes the “conscientious objection” provision in the bill much less effective, despite being designed to protect medical practitioners who do not wish to be involved in abortion.

The effect is that the protection is not operative where the pregnant woman herself asks for a termination of the pregnancy. . . [Full text]

WA’s take on assisted dying has many similarities with the Victorian law – and some important differences

The  Conversation

Ben White, Katrine  Del Villar, Lindy  Wilmott, Rebecca Meehan

Western Australia may soon become the second Australian state to permit voluntary assisted dying, with the release on Tuesday of its Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019.

As in Victoria, whose law is now just under two months old, the bill was the product of reviews by a parliamentary committee and ministerial expert panel. It’s expected to be debated in the Western Australian parliament in three weeks.

So how does what’s being proposed compare to the law in Victoria? . . . [Full text]

Bill to decriminalise abortion passes NSW Lower House

ABC News

Jonathon Hair

A historic bill to decriminalise abortion in New South Wales has passed the State Parliament’s Lower House, following two weeks of impassioned debate.

Members of Parliament were granted a conscience vote on the bill, which aims to remove abortion from the Crimes Act and define it as a medical procedure in its own legislation. . . [Full text]

Abortion bill in New South Wales a global first

Freedom of conscience conditional upon gestational age

Sean Murphy*

The Legislative Assembly in New South Wales, Australia, has passed a bill decriminalizing abortion. It is obviously modelled on Queensland’s Termination of Pregnancy Act 2018.

The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 permits abortion up to 22 weeks gestation for any reason; no medical indications are required (Section 5).  Abortion after 22 weeks gestation may be performed for any reason that two practitioners find acceptable (Section6(1)a), including current and future “social circumstances” (6(3)b).

A provision for conscientious objection requires disclosure of objections to abortion by a practitioner when asked by someone (not necessarily a patient) to perform or assist in the performance of an abortion on someone else, to make a decision about whether an abortion should be provided for someone else who is over 22 weeks pregnant (Section 6), or to advise about the performance of an abortion on someone else.

When a woman up to 22 weeks pregnant wants an abortion or advice about an abortion, an objecting practitioner is required to explain how she can contact a non-objecting practitioner, or transfer the care of the patient to a practitioner willing to provide an abortion, or to an agency (health service provider) where an abortion can be provided. 

If the woman is over 22 weeks pregnant, a practitioner is obliged to disclose objections to abortion but, if not convinced that the abortion should be performed, is not obliged to facilitate the abortion by explaining how she can contact a non-objecting practitioner or by a transfer of care to a willing colleague (Section 9(3)).

Practitioners who object to abortion in principle and those who object in particular cases are often unwilling to facilitate the procedure by referral, transfers of care or other means because they believe that this makes them parties to or complicit in an immoral act.  Thus, the provision for conscientious objection in the bill actually suppresses the exercise of freedom of conscience by these practitioners with respect to abortions up to 22 weeks gestation.

On this point Queensland’s Termination of Pregnancy Act, while it also suppresses the exercise of freedom of conscience by physicians who object to referral for abortion, at least does so consistently from conception to birth.

It is possible that the wording of this provision has been been muddled in New South Wales either in an attempt to put an end to the idea that only women can become pregnant, or to avoid the possibility that abortion might not be available to a woman who believes that she is a man, or who believes that she is neither a woman nor a man, but who becomes pregnant.

In any case, New South Wales may become the first jurisdiction to make the exercise of freedom of conscience in relation to abortion conditional upon the gestational age of an embryo or foetus.  If the bill passes, a physician will be free to fully exercise freedom of conscience at 22 weeks plus one day, but not at 22 weeks minus one day.  The inexact calculation of gestational age contributes further to the arbitrariness of this restriction of fundamental human freedom.