U.S. Supreme Court Justice issues injunction against federal regulation

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an injunction against the U.S. federal government preventing it from enforcing a controversial regulation that would require Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, a Catholic organization, to authorize their insurance company to provide coverage for contraceptives and surgical sterilization for their employees.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also issued an emergency stay for Catholic-affiliated groups challenging the contraceptive provision.[USA Today]  Meanwhile, the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote to President Obama asking that enforcement of the regulation be suspended until the Supreme Court has ruled on the issue in two cases it has agreed to hear.[USCCB]

In Defense of Religious Bioethics

American Journal of Bioethics, December, Vol. 12, No. 12, 2012

Judah Goldberg, Alan Jotkowitz

In the first year of a celebrated graduate program in bioethics, one of us wrote a short essay about physician-assisted suicide that claimed that murder is not only a breach of rights, but also a “grave affront to all human existence as well as to He who grants life.”  Well, that last part earned me a predictable scribble on the margins of my returned paper, something to the effect of, “What if someone does not believe in a Giver of life?”
Full Text

Texas court grants injunction against federal mandate

A federal court in Houston, Texas, has granted an injunction to East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University to prevent the enforcement of a controversial federal regulation that forces objecting employers to provide health insurance for birth control and surgical sterilization.  The Universities argued that their religious freedom was unlawfully infringed by the regulation. [LifeNews]

Supreme Court of Canada signals change in jurisprudence

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada has struck down three laws restricting prostitution and suspended the effect of its ruling for one year to give the government an opportunity to draft replacement legislation.  Some observers are of the view that the ruling increases the likelihood that assisted suicide or euthanasia will be legalized in Canada, either by judicial fiat or by legislation supporting such a change.  In the prostitution judgement, the court granted lower courts much greater latitude to set aside earlier Supreme Court precedents if new legal issues are raised, or if there has been some other change that “fundamentally shifts the parameters of the debate.”

The Supreme Court is set to hear an appeal from British Columbia in the case of Carter v. Canada, which turns on a precedent established by the Supreme Court in 1993 in the Rodriguez case.  The circumstances are virtually identical (plaintiffs suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease seeking a right to assisted suicide/euthanasia).  The Supreme Court judge in Carter distinguished the case from Rodriguez on some issues and ruled in favour of the plaintiff, but the British Columbia Court of Appeal overturned the ruling in a split decision, citing the Rodriguez precedent as binding.  Since the Supreme Court accepted the trial judge’s finding in the prostitution case that new evidence required a precedent to be set aside, counsel for the plaintiffs in the Carter case is optimistic that it will take the same approach when ruling on euthanasia. [National Post]


Protection of conscience provision in new Tasmanian abortion law

The Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill 2013 passed the Tasmanian  Legislative Council 9-5 on 21 November [ The Examiner] and received Royal Assent today.  Abortions after 16 weeks will require the approval of two physicians.  The new Act includes a protection of conscience provision that exempts those who object to the procedure from participating in it, except when necessary to save the life of a woman or prevent serious physical injury.  There is no requirement for referral, but an objecting physician must provide a woman “seeking a termination or advice regarding the full range of pregnancy options” a “list of prescribed health services” from which she may seek advice.  Since, subject to the content of the list, this does not seem to be the equivalent of referral for abortion, the requirement may not be problematic for those concerned about indirect moral complicity.

What is not clear is whether or not the Act actually prohibits an objecting physician from providing information or advice about pregnancy options beyond the “prescribed” list.  Section 7(4) states that an objecting physician may continue to “provide treatment, advice or counselling, in respect of matters other than a termination or advice regarding the full range of pregnancy options” (emphasis added) which could be taken to imply that an objecting physician is not permitted to offer a woman anything other than the prescribed list.


Protection of conscience provision in Massachusetts assisted suicide bill

House Bill 1998 (2013)

An Act affirming a terminally ill patient’s right to compassionate aid in dying

Protection of conscience provisions are included in a bill to
legalize assisted suicide in Massachusetts for residents who are at least 18
years old and diagnosed with a terminal illness with a life expectancy of six
months or less.  It is not clear from the text of the statute whether or
not an objector is exempt from all parts of the assisted suicide process [per
Section 4(b)ii], or only from the requirement to actually provide the lethal
medication [per Section 4(1)].  Similarly, it is not clear whether or not
an objector is required to refer or otherwise assist a patient to find someone
who will provide a lethal prescription; Section 4(b)iv appears to imply an
expectation of referral or assistance.

Catholic Archdiocese of New York wins injunction

A federal court in New York has awarded the Catholic Archdiocese of New York a permanent injunction barring enforcement of the contentious federal regulation that requires objecting employers to pay for health insurance for contraception and surgical sterilization.  The federal government can appeal the ruling. [New York Times]

French public panel recommends legalization of euthanasia

A panel of 18 people deemed representative of society, appointed by the French national ethics committee had decided that euthanasia/assisted suicide is a “legitimate right” for the dying or terminally ill.  The ethics committee had previously advised the French government against legalizing the procedures because of concern that it would be “dangerous” for society.   French President Francois Hollande is reported to be planning to bring forward a bill. [Reuters]

Confusing report of Slovenian hospital controversy

Ten physicians at the Ljubljana UKC hospital’s surgery programme for congenital
heart defects of children are reported to have used a “conscience clause” in order to deal with a dispute involving the occasional engagement of foreign surgeons.  Their complaint centres on the fact that a visiting Israeli surgeon does not remain for post-operative care of the children.  It is not clear how this could have been done, since Slovenian protection of conscience laws are not applicable in the situation described.  The report elsewhere refers to the physicians’ action as a “collective resignation.” [STA News Service]  The engagement of the Israeli surgeon had previously been found to be and example of corruption [STA News Service].