Protection of conscience bill to be proposed in Alabama

Representative Becky Nordgren of Alabama, is proposing a Health Care Right of Conscience Act in the state legislature.  The bill is intended to protect all health care providers from being compelled to participate, directly or indirectly, in abortion, human cloning, human embryonic stem cell research, and sterilization if they object to the procedures for reasons of conscience.  A health care provider must give an employer no less than 24 hours written notice of an objection.  An exception is made in the case of a procedure necessary to save the life of a patient.  Patricia Todd, a Representative apparently hostile to freedom of conscience for health care workers, asked “[W]hy are you in the health care profession if you don’t want to provide health care?” adding that there had been no attempts to regulate male impotence drugs or prostate exams. [Anniston Star]

Kenyan Muslim leader comment on Islamic medical ethics open to question

Sheikh Abduwahab Mursal, described in a Daily Nation report as a “top religious leader” in Kenya, is reported to have said that “it [is] a taboo in the Islamic faith for a woman to be touched by or discuss sexuality with a man even if he is a medical practitioner.”  The comment appears in a news story about Sheikh Mursal’s efforts to convince Muslims in Kenya to embrace “modern family planning” practices. [Daily Nation].  The Sheik is  secretary of the Wajir branch of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya.

This kind of assertion has created an impression in western countries that Muslim physicians may not examine patients of the opposite sex, an impression that is being used to justify suppression of freedom of conscience among health care workers, and which tends to fuel prejudice against Muslim medical and nursing students and physicians.  If the Sheikh’s statement has been accurately reported, it is certainly at odds with practice in even the most conservative Islamic countries.

American Civil Liberties Union sues U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference

A lawsuit has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), alleging that the health care directives of the Conference were responsible for the failure of a Catholic hospital to properly treat a woman who was miscarrying a pregnancy at 18 weeks gestation.  The incident subject of the lawsuit occurred in December, 2010 in Muskegon, Michigan.  The ACLU alleges that Tamesha Means was sent home twice by Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon without appropriate medical intervention, and received treatment only when she returned a third time and actually went into labour.  The suit also names Catholic Health Ministries Chairman Stanley Urban, and former chairpersons Robert Ladenburger and Mary Mollison as defendants.  They are named as individuals because Catholic Health Ministries (CHM) has status under Catholic Canon Law as a “public juridic person”   [Health Progress, March/April 2005] but has never been incorporated under the laws of Michigan or the United States. The ACLU contends that CHM was responsible for the enforcement of the USCCB directives.

Neither the hospital nor the treating physicians are named in the suit. As a result, the claim is not for medical malpractice or medical negligence by the physicians or hospital, but for negligence by the USCCB.  However, the hospital and treating physicians would be civilly liable for their actions regardless of USCCB directives, and their competence and clinical judgment would surely be central issues in evaluating what took place. If they were not negligent, it is difficult to see how the USCCB or CHM could be held to be negligent.

The substance of the complaint was released to the media before the USCCB was served.  In a response to media enquiries, the president of the USCCB insisted that the lawsuit was “baseless” and “misguided.”  John Haas, President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, stated that the ACLU was selectively reading the directives, and that the suit was a means to advance a partisan cause, not “to obtain redress (for Means).”

“If they were concerned about a redress of grievances for this woman and medical malpractice,” he said, the suit should have been filed in a Michigan court naming the hospital and its staff as defendants.  He also pointed out the at the directives would have permitted the induction of labour in the circumstances alleged in the complaint, and likened the suit against the USCCB as suing the American Medical Association because a physician failed to follow its guidelines. [NCR]

Belgian Senate committee approves euthanasia for children

A committee of the Belgian Senate has voted 13-4 to approve a bill to authorize euthanasia for children suffering “unbearable physical pain from a serious physical illness without prospect of improvement.”  Supporters of the proposal assert that restriction of the present law to adults is “discriminatory.”  16 Belgian paediatricians had written to two national newspapers  supporting the bill. [CNN]

U.S. Supreme Court to hear appeal on federal birth control mandate

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases concerning the controversial federal regulation that compels businesses employing more than 50 people to provide health insurance for birth control and surgical sterilization, even if the business owners object to doing so for reasons of conscience.  In one case (Hobby Lobby) the lower court supported the plaintiff’s position; in the other (Conestoga Wood Specialties) the lower court supported the federal government. [Washington Post]


Objection to euthanasia reported to be minority position in Belgium

Reports from Belgium suggest that objection to euthanasia has become a minority position in the country, and that increasing acceptance of the practice has led to its normalization, evidenced by the development of “new rituals” like a “last supper,” final manicures and other forms of advance preparation.  One marker of this is the report that a Catholic priest was present and administered the sacrament of the sick to two deaf twins who were lethally injected because they were going blind; their family was described as devoutly Catholic. For those opposed to euthanasia, increasing acceptance of the procedure demonstrates the existence of a slippery slope.  Those who support it believe the phenomenon reflects a natural (and positive) evolution of morality.   [National Post, 22 Nov., 24 Nov.]

Quebec’s latest niqab panic

 National Post

Chris Selley

Never having witnessed fascism taking hold, I wouldn’t claim to know it to see it. But whenever commentators have likened the Parti Québécois’ proposed “secularism charter” to the early drumbeats of some historically dire intolerance, my first instinct has been to scoff.

It’s certainly stupid and unfair to threaten public servants with unemployment if they don’t forsake certain religious customs, all to solve a problem that no one except the pollsters seems able to quantify. It’s certainly disturbing that any political party would stoop so low in search of support, and all the more so that the PQ seems to be finding it down there.

But whatever the polls say, Montreal seems more cosmopolitan every time I visit. Despite reports of an uptick in anti-Muslim confrontations, surely it’s a fantastically unlikely breeding ground for any sort of widespread, street-level discrimination.

Surely. But events recently took a shivery turn: A week ago, a woman spotted two daycare workers, dressed in niqabs, marshalling their young charges through the streets of Verdun, in southwest Montreal. And as one does nowadays, she snapped a photo and posted it to Facebook.

Thousands of people saw it. And not all of the commentary was polite. [Full text]


Belgian euthanatist notes some reluctance among physicians, advocates more euthanasia

Dr. Wim Distelmans is a Belgian physician who is a leading practitioner and advocate of euthanasia.  He has provided euthanasia in high-profile cases, like that of the woman who was dissatisfied with the results of sex change surgery, and of deaf twins who did not want to continue to live because they were going blind.  He acknowledges having provided euthanasia in “a lot more borderline cases,” but declines to discuss them because of the publicity might have adverse effects on legalization of the procedure elsewhere.  He is also co-chairman of the federal commission that reviews reports of euthanasia.  In an interview with a National Post reporter, he said that Belgium had “a good law on euthanasia,” but indicated that many physicians, hospitals and nursing homes  are reluctant to provide the service.  He described them as “still very prudent,” adding, “There are still a lot of people suffering unbearably because they ask for euthanasia and they don’t get it.”

It is not clear to what extent the “prudence” Dr. Distelmans attributes to his reluctant colleagues reflects conscientious objection; it could be simply the result of a more cautious interpretation of the law.  In any case, Dr. Distelmans wants the law expanded to permit euthanasia for those suffering from dementia who have made advance directives to that effect before becoming incompetent.  He also wants the law extended to allow euthanasia for minors.

Dr. Distelmans implies that a physician has “a medical responsibility” to provide euthanasia in appropriate cases. [National Post]

Freedom of conscience continues to generate discussion in abortion debate

Provisions in a bill to legalize abortion that threaten draconian fines to force objecting physicians and counsellors to facilitate the procedure are getting special attention in the Tasmanian Legislative Council.  Some members of the Council may be willing to support the bill if the measures aimed at suppressing freedom of conscience are substantially changed.  [The Advocate]