New Northern Ireland abortion law ‘may give health staff no choice’

Midwife voices fear for conscientious objectors if NI legislation changes

Belfast Telegraph

Allan Preston

Health workers in Northern Ireland could be left “exposed” by changes to abortion law, a lecturer in midwifery has claimed.

Debbie Duncan spent over 30 years working as a midwife in Scotland and England and now lectures at the school of nursing and midwifery at Queen’s University Belfast.

She was never obliged to take part in abortions during her career as the law allowed her to conscientiously object.

Ms Duncan said she fears “too much change with no regulation” means the same protections may not apply here. . . [Full text]

Defending freedom of conscience on emergency contraception

CMF Blogs
Reproduced with permission

Philippa Taylor*

The UK’s biggest abortion provider, British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), has attacked pharmacists who do not sell the ‘morning-after pill’ for conscience reasons. 

After one incident when a pharmacist would not dispense emergency contraception to a woman for ‘personal’ reasons, BPAS condemned both the pharmacist and the conscience protections provided to pharmacists. A petition was set up to prevent pharmacists from claiming freedom of conscience rights. 

Under the current law, covered by guidance from the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), pharmacists with a genuine conscientious objection to selling the pill may refer the customer to another pharmacist.

However, BPAS complained that it is ‘impossible to overstate the significance of even one pharmacist conscientiously objecting to selling the morning-after pill’. 

Fortunately, the General Pharmaceutical Council, in this case, upheld its guidelines and the consequent media coverage has now died down, temporarily at least.

This may seem like a one-off minor incident, but it is an illustration of increasing pressures on freedom of conscience protections. It is often assumed that the role of the conscience in medicine is relevant only to a few specialised and limited areas such as contraception or abortion, but in fact, the concept of the conscience goes right to the heart of what it means to act in a moral way, to act with integrity.

If we do not stand by those who are under pressure, the problems will only get worse and will spread. A well-known quote, often attibuted to Burke though it may have come originally from J S Mill, warns: ‘He should not be lulled to repose by the delusion that he does no harm who takes no part in public affairs. He should know that bad men need no better opportunity than when good men look on and do nothing.’

The Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) has therefore written to the General Pharmaceutical Council to ensure they are aware of our concerns and to thank them for holding to their guidance. The text of our letter is as follows, with their response after it:

‘I am writing to you following the recent news coverage of a Lloyds pharmacy worker who, according to news reports, conscientiously objected to selling the morning-after pill and directed a customer to another pharmacy instead. I note that a petition has since been set up to prevent pharmacists from claiming conscientious objection rights.

‘The Christian Medical Fellowship is the UK’s largest faith-based group of health professionals and we contributed with both written and oral evidence to your review of your Guidance on Religion, Personal Values and Beliefs. We publicly welcomed the new Guidance and the statement accompanying it, in which the Chief Executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council highlighted the positive contribution that pharmacists’ faith can make in their provision of care. We also welcomed the clear statement that: “Pharmacy professionals have the right to practise in line with their religion, personal values or beliefs”.

‘We all aspire to person-centred care. In any care scenario, there are (at least) two parties – the carer and the one receiving care – each of whom has rights. The General Pharmaceutical Council guidance helpfully achieves a balance between the patient’s right to service access and the pharmacist’s right to freedom of conscience.

Respect for the sincerely held religious and moral beliefs of employees is essential and we are concerned that some of the demands being made, based on this one recent case, would marginalise the beliefs, values and religion of pharmacists disproportionately and unnecessarily, and trivialise their right to freedom of conscience under the law. Despite widespread coverage of this case, we have yet to see evidence of recurring complaints under the present provisions.

‘While we strongly support the right to freedom of conscience for pharmacists, we do also emphasise the importance of openness and sensitive communication with colleagues and employers; any refusal to supply should be made courteously and sensitively.

‘On behalf of CMF, I want to thank the Council for protecting the right of pharmacists to refuse to engage in certain procedures that violate their most profound moral convictions.

‘I also encourage the Council to continue to make it clear, publicly, that all pharmacy professionals have the right to practise in line with their religion, personal values or beliefs.

Yours faithfully

Dr Mark Pickering
Chief Executive, CMF

The General Pharmaceutical Council replied with the following two sentences:

‘Our existing guidance In practice: Guidance on religion, personal values and beliefs (to which you refer) remains in place. We have no current plans to review it. As you are aware, the guidance sits under our standards for pharmacy professionals and relates to standard 1, Pharmacy professionals must provide person-centred care.’

The point here is simple but vital: if we care about liberty and personal integrity, we must make a reasoned defence of it in the public square, from the smallest incident to the biggest.

Bishop calls on Scotland’s first minister to affirm conscience rights of party members

Crux

Charles Collins

LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A Catholic bishop in Scotland is urging the country’s political leadership to affirm freedom of conscience, “and hold in high regard those in public life who remain true to their conscience, even at the expense of personal popularity or political advantage.”

Bishop Hugh Gilbert, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, made his comments in a letter to Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. . . [Full text]

Christian doctor lost his job after refusing to identify a six-foot-tall bearded man as ‘madam’, tribunal hears

The Telegraph

Gabriella Swerling

A Christian doctor lost his job in a government department after he refused to refer to “a six-foot-tall bearded man” as ‘madam’, a tribunal heard.

Dr David Mackereth, 56, claims he was sacked as a disability benefits assessor by the Department of Work and Pensions over his religious beliefs.

The father-of-four alleges he was asked in a conversation with a line manager: “If you have a man six foot tall with a beard who says he wants to be addressed as ‘she’ and ‘Mrs’, would you do that?”

Dr Mackereth, an evangelist who now works as an emergency doctor in Shropshire, claims his contract was then terminated over his refusal to use transgendered pronouns. . . [Full text]

Pharmacist refused to give morning after pill on a Sunday ‘for personal reasons’

Metro

Martine Berg Olsen

A mum was told she couldn’t have emergency contraception because it went against the beliefs of the only pharmacist working that Sunday.

Siani, 41, visited her local LloydsPharmacy at Sainsbury’s on Lewes Road, Brighton, when a female member of staff refused to give her the morning after pill for ‘personal reasons’.

Knowing that there are not many pharmacies open on a Sunday, Siani ordered the contraception online and paid upfront for collection. . . [Full text]

Assisted dying: Doctors’ group adopts neutral position

BBC News

Hospital doctors have dropped their 13-year opposition to the concept of helping terminally ill patients die.

Following a poll of its members, the Royal College of Physicians has now adopted a neutral stance on the issue of assisted dying.

Some groups have spoken out against the change, saying a respected medical body’s reputation has been damaged. Others called the decision “absurd”. . . [Full text]

Womb transplants could be a “vital medical service” for transgender women

BioEdge

Michael Cook

A well-known British cosmetic surgeon says that transgender women (ie, natal males) should be entitled to womb transplants when the technique becomes safe and feasible. Children have already been born after womb transplants from live and deceased donors.

Dr. Christopher Inglefield, founder of the London Transgender Clinic and a specialist in “gender confirmation surgery”, told the Mirror (UK) that it would be possible to perform the procedure on a transgender woman. . . [Full text]

Consent not a defence, court tells body modification artist

BioEdge

Michael Cook

Dr. Evil, a British body modification artist, has been found guilty of three counts of grievous bodily harm for tongue-splitting and nipple removal despite the fact that his clients consented to the procedures.

The argument put forward in court by Dr Evil, aka Brendan McCarthy, was strongly supported in the community. A petition with 13,400 signatures argued “for the right to express ourselves in whatever modified manner we wish in a safe environment”.

Judge Amjad Nawaz ruled that the kind of radical procedures in which Dr Evil specialised were not analogous to tattoos and piercings. . .[Full text]

Controversy dogs ‘assisted dying’ poll of UK doctors

BioEdge

Michael Cook

A controversial poll by the Royal College of Physicians, in the UK, is expected to result in a change in its position on “assisted dying”. Polling ends on March 1 and the result will be announced later in the month.

If the email poll fails to reach a supermajority of 60% who oppose a change from the status quo of opposition, the official position of the College will change to neutrality.

On the face of it, the procedure for the poll is bizarre. If 59% of the RCP’s 35,000 members support opposition to “assisted dying”, which in any democratic election would be an overwhelming victory with a margin of 18 percent, they still lose.

In fact, a former chair of the RCP’s ethics committee has threatened legal action. Dr John Saunders described the vote as a “sham poll with a rigged outcome”. In a letter to The Guardian he contended that the RCP would change its position to neutral even if the result were the same as a 2014 poll, when 57.5% of the doctors who voted did not “support a change in the law to permit assisted suicide by the terminally ill”.

Another group of doctors wrote a letter to The Times in which they accused a cabal of hijacking the RCP. “We are worried that this move represents a deliberate attempt by a minority on the RCP council to drop the college’s opposition to assisted suicide even if the majority of the membership vote to maintain it.”

The RCP President, Dr Andrew Goddard, insists that the poll is both fair and necessary. “It is important that the RCP represents fairly the views of its full membership. We will go ahead with the survey as planned.”

He is quite aware of the impact that a change would have upon public opinion. “The RCP is frequently asked for its stance on this high profile issue, which may be cited in legal cases and parliamentary debate, so it is essential that we base this on an up-to-date understanding of our members’ and fellows’ views.”

Although some reports assumed that “assisted dying” means “assisted suicide”, the RCP’s definition seems to encompass euthanasia as well: “The supply by a doctor of a lethal dose of drugs to a patient who is terminally ill, meets certain criteria that will be defined by law, and requests those drugs in order that they might be used by the person concerned to end their life.” In Oregon, where only assisted suicide is legal, “a physician prescribes a lethal dose of medication to a patient, but the patient – not the doctor – administers the medication.”


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. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

Assisted dying: 1,500 doctors back campaign against ‘tacit support’ plan

Express

David Maddox

MORE than 1,000 doctors have signed a letter opposing alleged attempts by the Royal College of Physicians to become “neutral” on assisted dying.

The college is locked in a row with members over its position.

Although a poll in 2014 found 58 percent did not support it, the college says unless it has a 60 per cent majority for or against, it will adopt a neutral view. It is conducting a new poll but with a three-way question, which opponents say makes the majority harder to obtain. . .[Full text]