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The legislation proposed if the Eighth Amendment is repealed will oblige GPs and other healthcare professionals who conscientiously object to transfer care to another doctor and to inform the patient in writing that they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]

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]

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]

Medical myths about Eighth Amendment must be challenged

Campaign of fear and misinformation has been deployed to tarnish reputation of Irish medicine

Irish Times

Eamon McGuinness

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.’

Those words were inserted into our Constitution by the Irish people in 1983. As a consultant obstetrician, and later as chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, I served Irish women and their children under the auspices of the Eighth Amendment.

It should be a matter of some national pride that Ireland, in that time, has been one of the safest places on earth to be a pregnant woman, and one of the safest places in the world to be an unborn child.

In recent times, a sustained campaign has been waged by some people, including several of my colleagues in obstetrics and gynaecology, to suggest that the words at the beginning of this article put women’s lives at risk.

If that were true, I myself would be leading the charge to have them expunged from the Constitution. A constitutional restriction on my ability, or the ability of any of my colleagues, to save the life of a pregnant woman would indeed be intolerable. Let me therefore be clear: no such restriction exists.

The Eighth Amendment has one medical effect only: it prevents Irish doctors from deliberately, as an elective matter, causing the death of an unborn child. It awards to the child in the womb the right to have their life protected in Irish hospitals, in Irish GP surgeries, and in Irish operating theatres.

That right does not restrict doctors from acting to save the life of a woman where a serious complication arises. . . . [Full text]

You’re a surgeon. A patient wants to look like a lizard. What do you do?

As medical treatments advance, the need to accommodate conscientious objection in healthcare is more pressing

The Guardian
Reproduced with permission

David S. Oderberg*

Imagine that you are a cosmetic surgeon and a patient asks you to make them look like a lizard. Would you have ethical qualms? Or perhaps you are a neurosurgeon approached by someone wanting a brain implant – not to cure a disability but to make them smarter via cognitive enhancement. Would this go against your code of professional ethics? With the rapid advance of medical technology, problems of conscience threaten to become commonplace. Perhaps explicit legal protection for conscientious objection in healthcare is the solution.

There is limited statutory protection for those performing abortion, and there is some shelter for IVF practitioners. Passive euthanasia (withdrawal of life support with intent to hasten death) is also part of the debate over doctors’ conscience rights. That’s about it as far as UK law is concerned – though freedom of conscience is enshrined in numerous conventions and treaties to which we are party. Abortion, artificial reproductive technologies (involving embryo research and storage) and passive euthanasia are the flashpoints of current and historic controversy in medical ethics. The debate over freedom of conscience in healthcare goes to the heart of what it means to be a medical practitioner.

Curing, healing, not harming: these are the guiding principles of the medical and nursing professions. But what if there is reasonable and persistent disagreement over whether a treatment is in the patient’s best interests? What if a practitioner believes that treating their patient in a particular way is not good for them? What if carrying out the treatment would be a violation of the healthcare worker’s ethical and/or religious beliefs? Should they be coerced into acting contrary to their conscience?

Such coercion, whether it involve threats of dismissal, denial of job opportunities or of promotion, or shaming for not being a team player, is a real issue. Yet in what is supposed to be a liberal, pluralistic and tolerant society, compelling people to violate their deeply held ethical beliefs – making them do what they think is wrong – should strike one as objectionable.

Freedom of conscience is not only about performing an act but about assisting with it. There are some people who ask doctors to amputate healthy limbs. If you were a surgeon, my guess is that you would refuse. But what about being asked to help out? Would you hand over the instruments to a willing surgeon? Or supervise a trainee surgeon to make sure they did the amputation correctly? If conscientious objection is to have any substance in law, it must also cover these acts of assistance.

This country has a long and honourable tradition of accommodating conscientious objectors in wartime – those who decline to fight or to assist or facilitate the fighting by, say, making munitions. They can be assigned to other duties that may support the war effort yet are so remote a form of cooperation as not to trouble their consciences. In any war, the objectors are a tiny fraction of the combat-eligible population. Yet when it comes to one’s rights, do numbers matter? Has their existence ever prevented a war from being carried out to the utmost? I fail to see, then, why we are tolerant enough to make adjustments for conscientious objectors in the midst of a national emergency, yet in peacetime would be reluctant to afford similar adjustments to members of one of the most esteemed professions.

Do we think medical practitioners should be no more than state functionaries, dispensing whatever is legal no matter how much it is in conflict with personal conscience and professional integrity – lest they be hounded out of the profession? Some academics think expulsion is not good enough. Or should healthcare workers be valets, providing whatever service their patients demand? Perhaps when practitioners find themselves faced with demands for the sorts of treatment I’ve mentioned – or perhaps gene editing treatments or compulsory sterilisation, society will act. Or maybe by then it will be too little, too late.

David S Oderberg is professor of philosophy at the University of Reading, and author of Declaration in support of conscientious protection in medicine

 

 

Protection in the Bill for health staff with conscientious objection

Isle of Man Today

Health staff who have a conscientious objection to abortion will receive protection when the law is reformed.

Members approved an amendment, tabled by Chris Robertshaw (Douglas East), to set out the protection available to staff.

The final version of the amendment was the result of consultation between Mr Robertshaw and Dr Alex Allinson.

The bill already stipulated health workers could not be forced to take part in abortion treatment if they had a genuine conscientious objection. . . [Full text]

 

Six things to know about the abortion bill

Main provisions of the General Scheme of a Bill to Regulate Termination of Pregnancy

The Irish Times

Minister for Health Simon Harris outlined in the Seanad some of the main provisions of the General Scheme of a Bill to Regulate the Termination of Pregnancy, if the referendum on whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment goes ahead and is passed:

1. Risk to life and health of the woman

. . . it would be the Government’s intention to permit termination of pregnancy in cases where there is a risk to the life or of serious harm to the health of the pregnant woman, without a distinction between risk from physical or mental health. . . .

2. Risk to health in an emergency

. . . would cover situations in which the risk to the life or of serious harm to the health of the pregnant woman is immediate.

3. Conditions likely to lead to the death of the foetus

. . . the Government would propose to permit termination of pregnancy on the grounds of a condition which is likely to lead to death before or shortly after birth.. .

4. Early pregnancy (12 weeks)

. . . it would be the Government’s intention to permit termination up to 12 weeks of pregnancy . . .

5.  Offences

. . . a woman who procures or seeks to procure a termination of pregnancy for herself . . . would not be guilty of an offence.

6. Other issues

. . . the Government would also propose to provide in legislation for a number of other issues . . . These would include, for example . . . permitting conscientious objection. . . . [Full Text]