Euthanasia rulings in Europe stir right-to-die debate

CTV News

The Associated Press

PARIS  — One French court acquitted a doctor of poisoning seven terminally ill patients while another ordered physicians to suspend treatment for a comatose man, while Britain’s top court said the country’s ban on assisted suicide may be incompatible with human rights.

The decisions of the past few days are fueling the arguments of Europeans who say the duty of doctors is to end the suffering of those beyond treatment.

But emotions run high on all sides around the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide, as is shown by the bitter case of the comatose Frenchman, Vincent Lambert. Hours after the French court sided with his wife in ordering an end to treatment, the European Court of Human Rights blocked the move at the request of his parents, in a rare late-night ruling. . . [Full text]

European parliament narrowly rejects report attacking freedom of conscience

By a narrow margin (351/319) the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe rejected a Report on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights put forward by Edite Estrela of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality.   The report complained of what it called “the abuse of conscientious objection” with respect to abortion in Ireland, Malta and Poland and other countries:

Conscientious objection’s practice has denied many women access to
reproductive health services, such as information about, access to, and purchase of contraception, prenatal testing, and lawful interruption of pregnancy. There are cases reported from Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Ireland and Italy where nearly 70% of all gynaecologists and 40% of all anaesthesiologists conscientiously object to providing abortion services.

It described conscientious objection to abortion as “widespread” and demanded that states should regulate and monitor the exercise of freedom of conscience – at least freedom of conscience exercised by “reproductive health care providers.”  The authors also assert institutions (such as hospitals) should not be allowed to operate according to conscientious or religious convictions. In its complaints about “the unregulated use of conscientious objection,” the report repeated the complaint of a 2010 report that was also rejected by the Assembly.

However, a minority opinion by author Anna Zaborska stated:

This non-binding resolution violates the EU Treaty and cannot be used to introduce right to abortion. . .No international legally binding treaty nor the ECHR nor customary international law can accurately be cited as establishing or recognizing such right. All EU institutions, bodies and agencies must remain neutral on the issue of abortion. . . . The human right of conscientious objection together with the responsibility of the state to ensure that patients are able to access medical care in particular in cases of emergency prenatal and maternal health care must be upheld. No person, hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to practices which could cause the death of a human embryo.

The report has been returned to the committee for review, but there is no doubt that a similar report will be returned for another vote some time in the future. [Christian Medical CommentCNS News]



Conscientious objection and induced abortion in Europe

The European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care, 2013; 18: 231–233

Anna Heino, Mika Gissler, Dan Apter, Christian Fiala


The issue of conscientious objection (CO) arises in healthcare when doctors and nurses refuse to have any involvement in the provision of treatment of certain patients due to their religious or moral beliefs. Most commonly CO is invoked when it comes to induced abortion. Of the EU member states where induced abortion is legal, invoking CO is granted by law in 21 countries. The same applies to the non-EU countries Norway and Switzerland. CO is not legally granted in the EU member states Sweden, Finland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. The Icelandic legislation provides no right to CO either. European examples prove that the recommendation that CO should not prevent women from accessing services fails in a number of cases. CO puts women in an unequal position depending on their place of residence, socio-economic status and income. CO should not be presented as a question that relates only to health professionals and their rights. CO mainly concerns women as it has very real consequences for their reproductive health and rights. European countries should assess the laws governing CO and its effects on women ’ s rights. CO should not be used as a subtle method for limiting the legal right to healthcare. [Full Text]


Legal Restrictions Affecting Christians / Report 2012

Report Finds Large Number of Cases of Intolerance and Legal Restrictions Effecting Christians in Europe

Vienna / European Union, May 22, 2013. The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians releases 41 examples of national laws with adverse effects on Christians in more than 15 European Countries. Additionally, 169 cases of intolerance against Christians in the EU – area in 2012 are portrayed. The report was presented on May 21 at an OSCE High Level Conference on Tolerance and Non-discrimination held in

Tirana, Albania, in a keynote speech delivered by the Observatory’s director Dr. Gudrun Kugler. [Full news release and documents]

Holy See diplomat strongly denounces intolerance against Christians in Europe

The secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who represented the Holy See at a recent OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) conference devoted to tolerance,  rued rising intolerance against Christians in Europe.

“Examples of intolerance and discrimination against Christians have not diminished, but rather increased in various parts of the OSCE region despite a number of meetings and conferences on the subject,” said Bishop Mario Toso, SDB.[ Read more – Holy See diplomat strongly denounces intolerance against Christians in Europe : News Headlines – Catholic Culture.]


Council of Europe Hailed for Religious-Freedom Resolution

Resolution 1928 says that the assembly must ‘accommodate religious beliefs in  the public sphere by guaranteeing freedom of thought in relation to health care,  education and the civil service.’

National Catholic Register

Carl Bunderson/CNA/EWTN NEWS

STRASBOURG, France — A resolution passed by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly is being lauded as an important — although limited —  recognition of religious and conscience rights in the public sphere.

“The important step with this resolution is the mention of the right to  conscientious objection and the enlargement of its scope of application,” Grégor  Puppinck, general director of the European Centre for Law and Justice, told  Catholic News Agency April 29. [Read more . . .]


Sweden discriminates against conscientious objection

News Release

Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe

Sweden lacks respect both for the fundamental freedom of conscience laid down by the European Convention on Human Rights and for the democratic proceedings of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. On 7 March the FAFCE filed a collective complaint against Sweden on the grounds of lack of respect for articles 11 (right to protection of health) and E (Non-Discrimination) of the European Social Charter.

On 7 October 2010 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted resolution (1763(2010)) The right to conscientious objection in lawful medical care, a text that invites member States to develop comprehensive and clear regulations that define and regulate conscientious objection with regard to health and medical services.

The Swedish Parliament voted its own initiative resolution against this text in May 2011, despite the fact that the resolution was adopted according to the democratic process that regulates all decisions taken at the Council of Europe. By not respecting this fundamental right for any citizen across Europe, Sweden actually breaches the very principles that are the foundation of the Council of Europe: Human Rights, Rule of Law and Democracy:

“The Report of Christine McCafferty, “Women’s access to lawful medical care: the problem of unregulated use of conscientious objection”, that preceded the Resolution 1763, caused a debate in Sweden about freedom of conscience for health care workers. The Swedish standing Committee has remained negative to the content of Resolution 1763 and the Swedish delegation has been directed by the Swedish Government to take action to accomplish a “change” of this resolution.

On 11 May, 2011, the Swedish Parliament debated the report, Resolution 1763 and its recommendations after a report from the Foreign Affairs Committee. The prospect that medical professionals and health care workers might exercise freedom of conscience initiated a debate. The Foreign Affairs Committee Report recommended that the Parliament should advise the Government to be “critical of the content of Resolution 1763” and consider “that the delegation should work to bring about a change in the nature of this resolution.” [1]The Left Party added a “reservation” suggesting that the Parliament ask for the abrogation of Resolution 1763. The Sweden Democrats, in contrast, expressed support for the Resolution in a separate reservation. The Swedish Parliament accepted the recommendation of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Sweden thus formally set itself against freedom of conscience for health care workers and against the goals of Article 11 of the European Social Charter.” (FAFCE’s collective complaint).

The Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe, FAFCE, a member of the INGO Conference of the Council of Europe and deeply attached to the values promoted by the latter has paid close attention since to the implementation of the resolution.

FAFCE’s President Antoine Renard stresses that “The right to conscientious objection is a safeguard for all of us, it provides a possibility for medical staff to enlighten their work by their conscience in relation to each one of their patients. The importance of conscience in the medical field grows every day as technology moves forward and medical staff is faced with ever more complicated decisions to make. Practising medicine is a human and moral activity, not just a technical one, as Hippocrates pointed this out centuries before our time.”

Considering that freedom of conscience is a fundamental right laid down by the European Convention on Human Rights and by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, and that its restriction is contrary to both these legal instruments and to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, the FAFCE has been very concerned with Sweden’s lack of respect for the principles set forth by the resolution, which have still not been implemented there.

Mr Renard explains that this is why the FAFCE has filed a collective complaint against Sweden: “We hope that our collective complaint against Sweden will raise international awareness of this lack of respect for the democratic procedure and for the fundamental right to freedom of conscience, there is no reason that Swedish medical staff should be deprived of a right laid down by several European human rights instruments”.

Contact Maria Hildingsson: +32 4 70 20 39 18 or


Canary in the Coal Mine: Mounting Religious Restrictions in Europe

Religious Freedom Project
Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs

Roger Trigg

On January 15, 2013, the European Court of Human Rights issued judgments on four cases of great significance for the cause of religious freedom. What they say could well have repercussions beyond Europe itself. . .

These four cases all came from the United Kingdom, and concerned the place of religion, and a religiously formed conscience, in modern European society. . . The point of principle at stake is how much importance should be given publically to religiously based principles, particularly in societies that are growing increasingly secular. [Read on]


Medicine, Strasbourg, and conscientious objection

European Court of Human Rights decision

Julian Sheather*

. . .Conscientious objection is a live issue in medicine. . . Given the prevailing political pluralism—given the co-existence in our culture of different value systems—to what extent should medicine accommodate such objections? Should those whose consciences differ be treated differently? What forms of conscientious objection should be tolerated and on the basis of what criteria?
[Full Text]

‘Obsessive Political Correctness’ Trumps Freedom of Conscience

 European Court of Human Rights Gives Ruling on Religious Freedom Cases

ROME, January 16, 2013 (

Today, the Fourth Section of the European Court of Human Rights has issued an important ruling on freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. While it contains some positive language regarding the wearing of religious symbols, the ruling is deeply worrisome with regards to the freedom to act according to one’s individual conscience. [Read on]