Physician warns of threat to freedom of conscience in Ireland

The Irish Times

Andrew O’Regan

Sir, – I have a number of concerns relating to conscientious objection and abortion.

The recently published heads of Bill define termination of pregnancy as “a medical procedure which is intended to end the life of the foetus”.

If the referendum is passed, this is the procedure that will be available on demand for any reason up to 12 weeks and after 12 weeks on vague health grounds.

First, it is of great worry to Irish practitioners that doctors, nurses and midwives cannot avoid participation in abortion in an increasing number of jurisdictions, including Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Bulgaria.

Second, in the UK supreme court, two midwives lost their battle to be treated as “conscientious objectors”, and to be excused from participating in abortions.

The midwives were told that while they could refuse to carry out the procedures themselves, they were obliged to delegate these duties to other staff and to supervise the staff during the abortions.

Many doctors and nurses consider that if their conscience prevents them from intentionally ending the life of the foetus, they should not be required to supervise and organise this same act.

The legislation proposed if the Eighth Amendment is repealed will oblige GPs and other healthcare professionals who conscientiously object to transfer care to another doctor and to inform the patient in writing that they may seek review of the objecting doctor’s decision.

Third, in 2013 a resolution to restrict the right of doctors and nurses to conscientious objection was narrowly defeated in the European Parliament. Some Irish MEPs voted for this. In the recent Dáil debates some politicians argued against a doctor’s right to avoid participation in abortion.

We have seen how one political party expelled a number of members for voting with their consciences in 2013 and how another party suspended one of the youngest female TDs in Dáil Éireann for exercising her conscience in a vote last month.

Fourth, some academic campaigners have been arguing for the removal of conscientious objection across Europe, claiming that it can be used as a “subtle method for limiting access to abortion”.

Finally, under Minister for Health Simon Harris’s plans for abortion, GPs and others will not be entitled to conscientiously object to participating in the intentional destruction (not delivery) of the foetus where there is a risk to the life or health of the patient in an emergency.

No evidence has been produced to show that intentional destruction of the foetus is necessary to avoid risks to the life or health of a pregnant patient.

I would urge GPs and our colleagues from other disciplines who are also in the front line of patient care to inform themselves fully of the implications for the practice of medicine should this referendum be passed. – Is mise,

Dr ANDREW O’REGAN,

(General Practitioner and Senior Lecturer),
Killarney,
Co Kerry.

UN Bureaucrats Push Full Steam Ahead for Abortion, Slam Breaks on Euthanasia

Experts a seek to limit freedom of conscience for  medical professionals

Center for Family and Human Rights

Stefanno Gennarini

NEW YORK, April 13 (C-Fam) “Sexual and reproductive health and rights are integral to the dignity of women and girls,” said Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore at a gathering of UN experts and bureaucrats in Geneva last month.

Gilmore invited some thirty international experts of two UN human rights treaty monitoring committees to “confront” the UN General Assembly and “defy” UN member states which have repeatedly refused to recognize an international right to abortion.

“This is not a time for optimism. This is not a time for hope. This is a time for courage,” Gilmore said. Egging on the experts, she said that the limitations that member states had placed on their power and resources were a “pernicious intentional effort to counter your authority, to minimize the reach of your responsibilities, and dilute the authority with which you speak.” . . .[Full Text]

Divisions, New and Old — Conscience and Religious Freedom at HHS

Lisa H. Harris

January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the creation of its Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, explaining that it will allow HHS’s Office of Civil Rights to “more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom” and will ensure that “no one is coerced into participating in activities that would violate their consciences, such as abortion, sterilization or assisted suicide.”1 Responses were as expected: religious conservatives hailed the new division as a needed intervention; public health and clinical leaders and advocates decried it, worrying about its impact on access to care and harm to patients.

HHS leaders’ comments to date suggest that they are uninterested in discrimination against health care providers whose consciences compel them to provide care, and uninterested in injuries to patients caused by care refusals. This framing makes conscience yet another issue dividing Americans, largely along partisan lines.


Harris LH.  Divisions, New and Old — Conscience and Religious Freedom at HHS. N Eng J Med 2018 Apr 12;378(15):1369-1371. doi: 10.1056/NEJMp1801154. Epub 2018 Mar 14

Loss of right to conscience costing NHS new midwives it needs

Catholic Universe-The Catholic Times

Nick Benson

Pro-life groups have claimed that the recent drop in applications to midwifery courses could be rectified by enshrining conscientious objection.

Recent figures show that there has been a 35 per cent drop in the number of applicants to midwifery courses since 2013. The Royal College of Midwives (RCM), which analysed the latest Ucas data for England, said the biggest reduction was in those aged 21 or over.

In 2013, more than 12,000 people aged over 21 applied for a midwifery course in England, but by 2017 that figure had dropped to just 6,700 – a decrease of 45 per cent. . . [Full text]

Opposing Medical Conscience with a Soft Touch

National Review
Reproduced with permission

Wesley J. Smith

When the Department of Health and Human Services announced its intention to create a new office to emphasize the protection of medical conscience, the screaming from the usual suspects was so loud one would have thought Roe v. Wade had been overturned.

Now, The New England Journal of Medicine has published an abstruse opinion piece by one Lisa Harris, a professor concerned with “issues along the reproductive justice continuum,” whatever that means.

I bring this up because medical conscience is a burning issue for pro-life medical professionals and those who believe in Hippocratic medicine. The issue is whether doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others can be forced to participate in requested interventions with which they have a strong religious or moral objection — such as abortion, assisted suicide, and suppressing normal puberty in children with gender dysphoria.

But reading Harris, you would think it was just about “partisans” not understanding the gray areas and nuances of contentious social issues. From, “Divisions Old and New–Conscience and Religious Freedom at HHS”:

I feel an angry argument building in response to HHS’s one-sided framing. But I resist it. Because my challenge these days is to avoid further entrenching polarized positions and to reject the divisiveness that poisons contemporary life. Is it possible, once again, to hold in tension seemingly opposite ideas about abortion? Can we understand abortion as both something that “stops a beating heart” and a fundamental right, rather than insisting it’s only one or the other?

But the conscience issue isn’t about whether we can all just get along and understand people have differences of opinion. It isn’t about “holding in tension seemingly opposite ideas.” It is about protecting doctors from being forced to take a human life or engage in another act in the clinical setting that is violative of their faith or moral beliefs.

Harris just doesn’t get it — or doesn’t want to:

Abortion and parenthood are not mutually exclusive; loving children and ending pregnancies are compatible in patients’ lived experience.

So is loving abortion work and questioning it: abortion providers might express an enormous sense of pride, purpose, and fulfillment in their work, and also say they felt weak-kneed the first time they saw a second-trimester abortion. Some feel sad that in different circumstances, many women would continue their pregnancies, in particular if poverty and economic strain were not issues. There is sometimes a point at which, when pressed, ardently pro-choice caregivers become uncomfortable with abortion. For some, it is a matter of pregnancy duration; for others, the circumstances of an abortion, such as sex selection.

Conversely, some caregivers whose religious beliefs lead them to strongly oppose abortion nevertheless offer assistance. Some religious nurses give medications and offer comfort, compassion, and care during an abortion because they see these tasks as shared purposes of nursing and religion. Sometimes doing so requires “sitting with discomfort in real time” and holding “the tension of two contradictory positions simultaneously.”

To which I respond, bully for them, but so what?

Harris should read Ezekiel Emanuel’s article in the NEJM from not too long ago advocating that doctors who refuse to participate in a legal procedures requested by the patient should be kicked out of medicine. No balancing of “tensions” and “sitting with discomfort in real time” for him!

And there is nothing in Harris’s piece to make me think she isn’t just as opposed to medical-conscience rights as Emanuel. She just says it indirectly, in a passive-aggressive manner, and with a softer touch.

I believe the real reason the medical establishment, the secular Left, and bioethicists like Emanuel and (I believe) Harris oppose strong legal conscience protections is precisely due to the powerful moral message sent when a respected doctor or nurse says to a patient: “No. I can’t do this thing you request. It is wrong.”

There is an old saying in pro-abortion advocacy: “If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one.”

To which I add a medical-conscience corollary: If you want an abortion, don’t force a doctor to give you one.

Sometimes comity requires living with unambiguity too.

Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to hold meeting on abortion

Doctors to discuss proposed abortion legislation but opposing views likely to surface

The Irish Times

Marie O’Halloran

The Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists will hold an extraordinary general meeting on Friday to discuss the Government’s proposed abortion legislation.

Divergence of views on abortion proposals is expected to arise but chairman of the institute Dr Peter Boylan rejected a claim made by retired obstetrician Dr Eamon McGuinness that there was “possibly a little dispute” on the executive about the decision to support repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

Dr Boylan said 19 of the executive’s approximately 25 members attended the executive meeting at which the decision was made to support repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

“Everybody voted in favour of the institute being in favour of repeal. There was one abstention but nobody voted against it,” he said.

When can a doctor conscientiously object?

America

Bernard G. Prusak*

Over the last decade, the culture wars in the United States have broken new ground: They have become battles over the rights of conscience. For example, now that same-sex marriage is a right, the question before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop is whether its sympathetic, telegenic owner, Jack Phillips, is within his rights to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. Similarly, under the Obama administration, the court heard arguments more than once over whether employers who object on religious grounds to contraceptives or abortion should be exempted from having to provide employees health insurance that includes such services.

By contrast, debates over conscientious objection in medicine have not had the same notoriety, though they have broken out repeatedly among health care professionals and medical ethicists since the turn of the century, when there was a flare-up over pharmacists’ refusing to fill prescriptions for emergency contraceptives.

A bill currently before the House of Lords has brought conscientious objection in medicine into widespread public discussion in the United Kingdom, if not yet on the other side of the Atlantic. . . [Full text]

Majority of GPs favour Eighth Amendment repeal, campaigner claims

Halappanavar death a watershed moment, pro-choice GP campaigner says

Irish Times

Barry Roche

A significant majority of general practitioners now favour repeal of the Eighth Amendment, marking a significant change in doctors’ views over the past 15 years, according to long-time campaigner for abortion services Dr Mary Favier.

She says the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012 proved a watershed moment for GPs, as much as for the general public.

“The death of Savita Halappanavar: that was the watershed moment – as much for GPs as for society at large,” she said. “There were just so many people upset, right-minded people who just said: ‘Oh my goodness, that’s dreadful, how could this possibly happen?’ ”

Ms Halappanavar died at University Hospital Galway a week after she presented with back pain and was found to be miscarrying, 17 weeks into a pregnancy. Although the pregnancy was not viable, her requests for termination were refused because there was a foetal heartbeat. She then contracted sepsis and died of multi-organ failure and septic shock. . . [Full text]

Hawaii legalizes assisted suicide: Refusing to refer for suicide may incur legal liability

Sean Murphy*

Assisted suicide will become legal in Hawaii on 1 January, 2019, as a result of the passage of the Our Care, Our Choice Act. Introduced in the state House of Representatives only in January, it passed both the House and Senate and was approved by Governor David Ige on 5 April. Beginning next year, physicians will be able to write prescriptions for lethal medications for Hawaiian residents who are capable of informed consent, who are at least 18 years old, and who have been diagnosed with a terminal, incurable disease expected to result in death within six months.1

And beginning next year, Hawaiian physicians who refuse to facilitate assisted suicide by referring patients to a willing colleague may face discipline — including expulsion from the medical profession — or other legal liabilities. Hawaii could become one of only two jurisdictions in the world where willingness to refer patients for suicide is a condition for practising medicine.2 . . . [Full text]

The Eighth Amendment and right to conscientious objection

The Irish Times
(Letters to the editor)

Fiona de Londras

Sir, – Thomas Ryan (April 5th) claims that “Once the so-called “right to choose” is placed on legal footing, it is quickly transformed into the right to force people to pay for abortions and force medical professionals to perform them”.  . . .

The right to conscientious objection has been enjoyed by Irish medics, healthcare professionals, and pharmacists for many years. . . but doctors and pharmacists have always had the right to refuse to prescribe or dispense contraception and emergency contraception.

. . . The general scheme of the proposed post-repeal law explicitly protects individuals’ right to conscientiously abstain from direct provision of abortion care.

Mr Ryan appears to object to the continuing obligation to refer a patient to another health care professional . . . Any other approach would privilege the right of a medic in a way that abandons and does harm to the pregnant person. No system could realistically countenance so unbalanced an approach, and it is difficult to understand how one’s conscience could demand it. . . .[Full text]