European Centre for Law and Justice
On the occasion of a conference organized by the ECLJ at UN headquarters in Geneva, Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, spoke in favor of the right of medical staff to refuse to participate in performing an abortion or euthanasia. He mentioned the case of a midwife who was harshly sentenced in Sweden for having refused to participate in an abortion and was forced into “professional exile.”
He considers that this right, based on freedom of conscience, should extend to the medical staff directly involved in the matter, as long as their objection is well-founded on a strong and deep conviction. . . [Full text]
Cuando la conciencia molesta a la ley
A finales de 2010, en la Asamblea Parlamentaria del Consejo de Europa (PACE) se presentó un informe de su Comisión de Asuntos Sociales, Salud y Familia en el que expresaba su profunda preocupación por el problema de la “objeción de conciencia no regulada” en Europa. El Comité propuso que los Estados adoptaran “una regulación integral y clara” para hacer frente a este problema. . .[aceprensa]
In late 2010, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) was presented with a report from its Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee expressing deep concern about the problem of “unregulated conscientious objection” in Europe. The Committee proposed to solve this problem by having states adopt “comprehensive and clear regulations” to address it.
The Council ultimately adopted a resolution that almost completely contradicted the premises of the report, but in 2011 the theme was resurrected by Dr. Leslie Cannold, an Australian ethicist. Dr. Cannold warned that, “[a]t best, unregulated conscientious objection is an accident waiting to happen,” and, at worst, “a sword wielded by the pious against the vulnerable with catastrophic results.” It was, she wrote, “a pressing problem from which we can no longer, in good conscience, look away.” . . .[Full text]
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council that accuses Malta of violating the Convention Against Torture and other alleged obligations because Maltese law prohibits abortion. The ICJ describes itself as “60 eminent judges and lawyers from all regions of the world” that “promotes and protects human rights through the Rule of Law, by using its unique legal expertise to develop and strengthen national and international justice systems.” The same general claim was made this month by the UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
Juan E. Méndez
The present report focuses on certain forms of abuses in health-care settings that
may cross a threshold of mistreatment that is tantamount to torture or cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment. It identifies the policies that promote these practices and existing protection gaps.
By illustrating some of these abusive practices in health-care settings, the report sheds light on often undetected forms of abusive practices that occur under the auspices of health-care policies, and emphasizes how certain treatments run afoul of the prohibition on torture and ill-treatment. It identifies the scope of State‟s obligations to regulate, control and supervise health-care practices with a view to preventing mistreatment under any pretext.
The Special Rapporteur examines a number of the abusive practices commonly reported in health-care settings and describes how the torture and ill-treatment framework applies in this context. [Report]
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, has published and editorial that extols the passage of the Philippines Reproductive Health Act. He argues that “family planning is a long established human right” and makes a claim for “reproductive rights,” and asserts that it is necessary to “tear down . . . barriers that prevent [people] from accessing information and services.”
The U.N. Population Fund’s annual report claims that access to birth control is a human right. The report has no legal significance, but activists like the American based Center for Reproductive Rights have pursued a strategy of seeking such declarations, or “soft norms,” in the hope that they will eventually lead to binding “harde norms” that can be enforced against governments and objecting health care workers. (See Secret Memos Reveal Worldwide Pro-Abortion Legal Strategy)
The UN Human Rights Commison has issued a document that purports to base the restriction or suppression of freedom of conscience among health care workers on human rights claims. Technical guidance on the application of a human rights based approach to the implementation of policies and programmes to reduce preventable maternal morbidity and mortality. Section 30 of the document calls for changing laws and policies that allow conscientious objection “to hinder women’s access to a full range of services.” Section 61 states that laws, polices and regulations that allow “unregulated conscientious objection” should be changed, and “newly established obligations of providers and rights of individual users should be disseminated.” The resolution was endorsed by New Zealand, Burkina Faso, and Colombia and enumerates access to abortion among “sexual and reproductive health rights.” 20 of the 47 council members opposed the text. The UN General Assembly will consider adopting it later in October. [CFAM]
The UNESCO Chair in Bioethics at the University of Barcelona held a seminar on “Abortion and conscientious objection” in early February. The Chair’s director, Maria Casado, told the press that Spain should establish a national registry of physicians who object to abortion as a method of ensuring access to the procedure. While she claimed to support a right to conscientious objection, she said that “When [it] is transformed into a collective stance for ideological reasons, it turns into civil disobedience.” [ELN]
Japan, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union are reported to be trying to make it illegal for health care workers to decline to perform abortions for reasons of conscience. The negotiations at the Beijing +5 conference are said to have broken down when Nicaragua proposed strong language to protect conscientious objectors. If accurate, these reports indicate that the US, Australia and New Zealand are attempting to impose on third world countries policies that are not acceptable in their own, since all three countries have enacted protection of conscience legislation for their own health care workers.