Lack of Conscientious Objection Clause for Medical Staff in Sweden

Decision of the European Committee of Social Rights

News Release

European Federation of Catholic Family Associations  (FAFCE)

Contrary to Resolution 1763 adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 10 October 2011, Medical Staff in Sweden have no legal right to conscientious objection in case of ethically sensitive issues which occur particularly at the beginning and the end of life. The European Federation of Catholic Family Associations (FAFCE) which has a participatory status with the Council of Europe submitted a collective complaint against Sweden in 2013 based on the above grounds and the right to health, together with the Swedish organisations Provita and Christian Medical Doctors and Students (KLM). The decision of the European Committee of Social Rights was made public today.

One of the issues addressed in the Collective Complaint against Sweden was freedom of conscience for medical staff. In its response to the Complaint the Swedish Government argued that freedom of conscience should be discussed in the work place and that if the issue can’t be resolved in a satisfactory manner for the employee, it can be brought before Court, based on article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights which is incorporated into the Swedish law and on the grounds of the anti-discrimination law for the individual. The right to freedom of conscience is enshrined in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In its response the Government also notes that contacts have been established with the concerned employers and workers union: none of these could provide examples of situations where freedom of conscience had been problematic. Thus the Government considers that the problem is purely theoretical.

”It is of course very noteworthy that the Government stated that denied freedom of conscience only is a theoretical problem in its response to the European Social Rights Committee. In a recent complaint to the United Nations Swedish by European Centre for Law and Justice, medical staff – four midwifes, three general practioners and two pediatricians – testify of how the negative attitude towards freedom of conscience has limited them and their colleagues in their professional practice”, says Mrs Nordström, CEO or Provita and President of Scandianvian Human Rights Lawyers, and the legal representative of a Swedish midwife, Ellinor Grimmark, in an ongoing courtcase about freedom of conscience in Sweden. Mrs Grimmark lost her job and was refused employment due to her refusal to perform abortions as part of her tasks as a midwife at several Swedish hospitals. – “This is a concrete case that proves that freedom of conscience for medical staff is all but a theoretical problem in Sweden”, says Ruth Nordström.

In its decision the European Committee of Social Rights states that it has previously, in a Collective Complaint against Italy, considered whether freedom of conscience in accordance with article 11 of the European Social Rights Charter affects women’s access to abortion in Italy (International Planned Parenthood Federation vs. Italy (Complaint 87/2012)).

The Committee establishes that article 11 is not applicable in this case, where the situation is the opposite, i.e. where women’s access to abortion is not affected. Since article 11 is not applicable the Committee does not take a position regarding the issue of discrimination according to article E in the European Social Rights Charter.” says Ruth Nordström.

The Swedish Federation of Medical Doctors (Läkarförbundet) and the Swedish Federation of Medical Staff (Vårdförbundet) together with the Swedish Planned Parenthood Federation (RFSU) recently claimed that ”conscience clauses threaten free abortion”. In other words the official representative bodies of medical staff in Sweden consider access to abortion as superior to freedom of conscience. FAFCE’s President Antoine Renard remarks that “this statement is a stark contrast to the position recently expressed in another Council of Europe Member State, namely France where The National Council of the Order of Medical Doctors publically opposes the suppression of the conscience clause related to abortion and “recalls that it is a fundamental provision foreseen by the medical deontological statute-book and by the public health law.”

Furthermore, the Committee considers that it cannot be proven that the number of abortions in Sweden is considerably high or that these abortions are a result of insufficient access to preventive measures.

FAFCE’s Secretary General Maria Hildingsson underlines that ”Sweden has among the highest abortion rates in Europe, year after year, statistics show this trend very clearly.” She considers that “it is regrettable that the European Committee of Social Rights does not take a clear stance in favour of stronger legal protection regarding the ethical issues addressed in the Complaint.

Regarding sex selective abortions in Sweden, another issue reported in the Complaint and the treatment of infants surviving late term abortions the Committee states in its decision ”that FAFCE’s complaints relate to an issue which is very sensitive for many of the State Parties to the Charter, i.e. the question of when human life begins, which depends on the wide diversity of values and traditions in the different states.”. The Committee pursues by saying that “States Parties enjoy a wide margin of appreciation in deciding when life begins and it is therefore for each State Party to determine, within this margin of appreciation, the extent to which a foetus has a right to health.”

“The issue of infants surviving late term abortion has caught considerable attention across Europe during the recent months, namely in connection with a petition signed by over 200 000 citizens which will be debated in the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the PACE next week” underlines FAFCE’s President Antoine Renard.

“It is astonishing that the Committee argues that Member States should decide when life begins. It is an undisputed biological fact that life begins at conception. What the committee is likely to mean is when the unborn life should be protected and granted human dignity. This wording can hardly be due to ignorance, but rather it is a rhetorical approach that’s both tendentious and cynically” says Tomas Seidal, Vice President of KLM.

”The issue of abortion has been, is and will remain controversial for us who work in medical care, since it is a unique intervention with the consequence of putting an end to a human life. We also consider that the issue becomes particularly complicated when the unborn child is the object of medical care in other circumstances, and as such a patient with the right to life and health care. If it collides with a strongly established conviction and belief against extinguishing a life at its beginning, there must be room for conscientious freedom” says Tomas Seidal.

Contact:

Maria Hildingsson, Secretary General, European Federation of Catholic Family Associations  (FAFCE)
+32 4 70 20 39 18
m.hildingsson@fafce.org

Ruth Nordström, President, Provita 
+46 70 725 1917
ruth.nordstrom@provitasweden.org

Tomas Seidal, Vice-President, Christian Medical Doctors and Students (KLM)
ht.seidal@gmail.com


Founded in 1997 the European Federation of Catholic Family Associations (FAFCE) holds a participatory status with the Council of Europe, is a member of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency Platform, and represents family associations from 15 European countries.

Sask MDs, doctors’ groups ask for a hearing by College of Physicians and Surgeons

News Release

Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada

SASKATOON, June 17, 2015 /CNW/ – Larry Worthen, Executive Director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada (CMDS), urged the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (CPSS), today, to support freedom of conscience when they meet on Friday, June 19th, to consider a policy on conscientious objection. CMDS and other doctors’ groups are asking for a meeting with the College’s drafting committee to express their concerns.

Said Larry Worthen, “To ask physicians to act against deeply held moral convictions would be a clear infringement on physicians’ rights to the Section 2 fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The College’s Associate Registrar Brian Salte has ties to the Conscience Research Project led by one of Canada’s leading proponents of abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, and Mr. Salte has attended briefings of that group. We ask that the College would give us equal time to present our side of the argument and hear concerns about how this policy will affect patient care in Saskatchewan.”

Previous CPSS policy drafts required that physicians refer patients for procedures even when performing such procedures went against the moral convictions of the physician. Under the drafts, physicians would even be forced to actually perform procedures even though to do so would go against strongly held moral and religious convictions. Physicians who refused to comply would be vulnerable to sanctions up to and including losing their licences.

“No one’s interests are served by effectively disqualifying certain Saskatchewan physicians from the practice of medicine,” said Worthen.

Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant physicians hold grave concerns about the negative effects when they are forced to act against their consciences.

“Going against one’s conscience can cause moral distress which has been shown to affect patient care adversely. We need to have physicians who are free to bring their whole selves to their patients, including their compassion and their ethics,” said Mary Deutscher, member of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon Justice and Peace Commission. “For Catholic physicians, participation in a formal referral makes them an accomplice in the procedure. This position is supported by many evangelical Protestant experts and other groups as well.”

This is also reflected in the positions of CMDS, Canadian Physicians for Life (CPL) and the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies (CFCPS).

“Should the College choose to adopt this policy, it would assume the role of judge and jury deciding who could or could not exercise their constitutionally protected rights,” said Faye Sonier, CPL’s General Legal Counsel. “Physicians who cannot perform certain procedures due to their beliefs would become a class of citizens who fall outside the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

“Physicians who hold conscientious objections do so with profound respect for both the well-being and the autonomy of their patients. Their conscientious objections also stem from a deep commitment to the Hippocratic Oath,” said Dr. Thomas Bouchard, M.D., of the CFCPS. “In debates about conscience rights, the debate is often framed as a competition between the rights of a patient to access services versus the conscience of a physician. But physicians in these circumstances do not care solely about their conscience rights. These physicians also care deeply about the good of their patients.”

Self-referral is already a commonly exercised option among patients, including in respect of abortion services, across most of Saskatchewan. Self-referral allows the doctor to avoid being involved in facilitating the provision of the service, and the patient gets prompt access to the service.

A public opinion survey conducted May 20th-27th by Abingdon Research indicated that when a patient and doctor have different views on best treatment because of the doctor’s moral convictions, 47.5% of the Saskatchewan public felt that a patient could seek further advice or help from a different doctor without a formal referral, compared with 44.1% who felt the doctor should provide a formal referral. More than 53% of Saskatchewan residents felt that “nothing should happen to the doctor” who was unwilling to provide a treatment or a referral for reasons of moral conviction.

“Doctors represented by our groups are willing to discuss all procedures with their patients in a caring and objective way. We simply ask that when the patient makes a decision that the doctor cannot support for moral reasons that the patient access another service provider directly,” added Dr. Sheila Harding, M.D., a Saskatoon haematologist. “I have heard of many cases where doctor and patient agree to disagree and the patient returns to the physician’s practice after the procedure. If anything, the physician-patient relationship was enhanced.”

CMDS (Christian Medical and Dental Society) represents some 1600 physicians and dentists across Canada (cmdscanada.org). The Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies (canadiancatholicphysicians.com) represents groups from across Canada. Canadian Physicians for Life (physiciansforlife.ca is the national association of pro-life physicians and provides resources and educational opportunities to thousands of physicians and medical students each year.

SOURCE Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada

For further information: Larry Worthen at 902-880-2495. Larry is available for interviews in Saskatoon after 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, June 17th, until Noon, Saturday, June 20th.

Conscientious objection policy rasies thorny issues for Sask. doctors

Saskatoon Star Phoenix

Jonathon Charlton

A draft policy under review by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan does not require doctors who refuse to perform an abortion to refer patients to one who will.

Associate registrar Bryan Salte declined to comment on specifics in the draft, noting they could change. The CPSS committee working on the policy was set to review it further Friday, and it will go to the full CPSS council for formal approval in principle June 19. . . [Full text]

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Science, religion, public funding and force feeding in modern medicine

Responding to Bronca, T. “A conflict of conscience: What place do physicians’ religious beliefs have in modern medicine.” Canadian Health Care Network, 26 May, 2015.

Sean Murphy*

Tristan Bronca writes, “Belief without evidence is becoming incompatible with scientific sensibilities.”1

This notion might be exemplified by Dr. James Downar. Advocating for physician assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canadian Family Practice, he described himself as “a secular North American who supports individual autonomy, subject only to limitations that are justifiable on the basis of empirically provable facts.”2

Dr. Downar’s “Yes” was opposed by Dr. Edward St. Godard’s “No.”3 Since both are palliative care specialists, their differences on the acceptability of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia are not explained by differences in their clinical experience, but by their different moral or ethical beliefs.

However, neither Dr. Downar’s beliefs nor Dr. St. Godard’s can be justified “on the basis of empirically provable facts.” Nor can Dr. Downar’s support for individual autonomy, since empirical evidence demonstrates the primacy of human dependence and interdependence – not autonomy. Empirical evidence can provide raw material needed for adequate answers to moral or ethical questions, but it cannot answer them. As Dr. McCabe told Tristan Bronca, science is necessary – but not sufficient. Moral decision-making requires more than facts.

And the practice of medicine is an inescapably moral enterprise. Every time they provide a treatment, physicians implicitly concede its goodness; they would not otherwise offer it. This is usually unnoticed because physicians habitually conform to standards of medical practice without adverting to the beliefs underpinning them. Hence, the demand that physicians must not be allowed to act upon beliefs is unacceptable because it is impossible; one cannot act morally without reference to beliefs.

But Tristan Bronca asks specifically about whether or not religious beliefs belong in medical practice in a secular society. On this point, the Supreme Court of Canada is unanimous: “Yes.”

“Everyone has ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ in something, be it atheistic, agnostic or religious,” Mr. Justice Gonthier wrote in Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36. “To construe the ‘secular’ as the realm of the ‘unbelief’ is therefore erroneous.”

“Why,” he asked, “should the religiously informed conscience be placed at a public disadvantage or disqualification? To do so would be to distort liberal principles in an illiberal fashion and would provide only a feeble notion of pluralism.”4

Thus, to argue that a “secular” society excludes religious belief perpetuates an error that contributes significantly to climate of anti-religious intolerance.

Public funding of services is beneficial for patients, but quite distinct from physician obligations. After all, physicians provide many kinds of elective surgery and health services that are not publicly funded, and physicians are not paid for publicly funded services that they do not provide. Besides, our secular society taxes both religious and non-religious believers, so both have equal claims on “public dollars.”

Most important, public funding does not prove that a procedure is morally or ethically acceptable, any more than public funding proves that force-feeding prisoners in Guantanamo Bay is acceptable. Perhaps that point will come up in military proceedings against a navy nurse who refused orders to do so.5

[PDF File]


The Canadian Healthcare Network posted this response in the on-line edition, which is accessible only to health care professionals and managers.


Notes

1.  Bronca, T. “A conflict of conscience: What place do physicians’ religious beliefs have in modern medicine.” Canadian Health Care Network, 26 May, 2015 (Accessed 2018-03-07).

2. Downar J. “Is physician-assisted death in anyone’s best interest? – Yes.” Canadian Family Physician, Vol. 61: April, 2015, p. 314-316 (Accessed 2018-03-07).

3. St. Godard E. “Is physician-assisted death in anyone’s best interest? – No.” Canadian Family Physician, Vol. 61: April, 2015, p. 316-318 (Accessed 2018-03-07).

4. Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36 [2002] 4 S.C.R. 710 (SCC), para. 137 (Accessed 2014-08-03). “Madam Justice McLachlin, who wrote the decision of the majority, accepted the reasoning of Mr. Justice Gonthier on this point thus making his the reasoning of all nine judges in relation to the interpretation of ‘secular.’” Benson I.T., “Seeing Through the Secular Illusion” (July 29, 2013). NGTT Deel 54 Supplementum 4, 2013  (Accessed 2018-03-07).

5. Rosenberg C. “Top nursing group backs Navy nurse who wouldn’t force-feed at Guantánamo.” Miami Herald, 19 November, 2014 (Accessed 2018-03-07)

 

Project Submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan

Re: Conscientious Refusal (as revised)

5 June, 2015

Abstract

Council has been given no evidence that anyone in Saskatchewan has ever been unable to access medical services or that the health of anyone in Saskatchewan has ever been adversely affected because a physician has declined to provide or refer for a procedure for reasons of conscience.

The conclusion that objecting physicians “should not be obligated to provide a referral to a physician who will ultimately potentially provide the service” is entirely satisfactory. It is a tacit admission that such a policy would be an unacceptable assault on freedom of conscience.

Conscientious Refusal as revised attempts to nullify the alleged ‘bias’ of physicians who object to a procedure for reasons of conscience by requiring them to refer patients to a non-objecting colleague. This proposal is not sound, since, if it is to be applied fairly and consistently, the ‘bias’ of physicians who do not object to a procedure should be nullified in the same way. This would simply exchange one kind of alleged ‘bias’ for another, inconvenience patients and provide them with no better care.

The more sensible course is to require all physicians to provide patients with sufficient information to satisfy the requirements of informed medical decision making.  Physicians must advise patients at the earliest reasonable opportunity of services or procedures they decline to recommend or provide for reasons of conscience, advise affected patients that they may seek the services elsewhere, and ensure that they have sufficient information to approach other physicians, heath care workers or community organizations.  They must not promote their own moral or religious beliefs when interacting with a patient.

Physicians unwilling to abide by these requirements must promptly arrange for a patient to be seen by another physician or health care worker who is able to do so.

If the College is determined to enact a policy on conscientious refusal, it should ensure that the policy adopted is sufficiently flexible to accommodate physicians with respect to all procedures or services. Otherwise, Council should reject Conscientious Refusal as revised and postpone policy development until after the Carter decision comes into force in 2016.


Contents

I.    Revision of draft policy – Conscientious Refusal

II.    Focus of this submission

III.    Section 5.3

IV.    Section 5.3: Suggested modification

V.    Section 2: Scope

VI.    Summary

Appendix “A” – Ontario College briefing materials

Appendix “B” – Providing Information

Appendix “C” – Conscientious Refusal and assisted suicide/euthanasia

Protection of Conscience Project sees progress, room for improvement in draft Saskatchewan policy

Draft  policy no longer demands referral by objecting physicians

Project –  Prohibiting communication with patients by objecting physicians “unsound”; disclaimer re: euthanasia and assisted suicide “misleading and ill advised”

News Release

Protection of Conscience Project

A committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan has revised a controversial draft policy after a public consultation yielded “a very significant return” of over 4,400 responses, almost all of which opposed it.  The consultation appears to have produced no evidence that anyone in Saskatchewan has ever been unable to access medical services because a physician has declined to provide or refer for a procedure for reasons of conscience, or that the health of anyone in Saskatchewan has ever been adversely affected by conscientious objection by a physician.

The committee concluded that objecting physicians “should not be obligated to provide a referral to a physician who will ultimately potentially provide the service.”  The requirement was deleted from the revised draft.

In a submission to the College, the Protection of Conscience describes the deletion as as “entirely satisfactory” and “a tacit admission that such a policy would be an unacceptable assault on freedom of conscience – not a compromise.”

However, the revised draft effectively prohibits objecting physicians from communicating with patients about morally contested procedures, requiring them to refer patients to a non-objecting colleague.  The assumption underlying the recommendation is that a physician who has a moral viewpoint is incapable of properly communicating with a patient because of ‘bias’.

In its submission, the Project points out that all physicians have moral viewpoints. If the proposed policy is to be applied fairly and consistently, the ‘bias’ of physicians who do not object to a procedure should be nullified in the same way.

This proposal is unsound.  If applied as now written, it would simply exchange one kind of alleged ‘bias’ for another.  If applied fairly and consistently to all physicians, it would inconvenience patients, delay treatments, provide no better outcomes, double the costs of providing health care and antagonize physicians on all sides of any issue.

Instead, the Project recommends that all physicians should be required to provide patients with sufficient information to satisfy the requirements of informed medical decision making, and

  • advise patients at the earliest reasonable opportunity of services or procedures they decline to recommend or provide for reasons of conscience, and
  • advise affected patients that they may seek the services elsewhere, and ensure that they have sufficient information to approach other physicians, heath care workers or community organizations

After the public consultation, the drafting committee added a disclaimer to the revised draft stating that the policy will not apply to physician administered euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.  Among the ostensible reasons offered for this are that the issue is “in a state of development,” ethical implications have not been fully explored, legislation is lacking and there is “considerable uncertainty” about it.

The Project submission describes this as “misleading and ill-advised.”  It reminds the College that, when the associate registrar proposed the coercive policy in July, 2014, it was well known that the Supreme Court of Canada might well legalize physician assisted suicide, and he specifically referred to that.  After the Supreme Court of Canada issued its judgement in Carter, the associate registrar defended the proposition that physicians should be disciplined or fired if they refused to at least refer patients for euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. He did not then urge caution because the ethical implications of the ruling were unclear or there was considerable uncertainty about it.

“It is unrealistic to believe that Conscientious Refusal as revised will not be applied to physician administered euthanasia and physician assisted suicide,” states the Project submission, “either directly, after a certain length of time, or indirectly, as a paradigm for further policy development.”

It recommends that, if the College is determined to enact a policy on conscientious refusal, it should ensure that the policy adopted is sufficiently flexible to accommodate physicians with respect to all procedures or services. Otherwise, Council should reject Conscientious Refusal as revised and postpone policy development until after the Carter decision comes into force in 2016.

The revised policy, Conscientious Refusal, may again be considered by Council on 19 June, 2015.

Contact: 
Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project
Email: protection@consciencelaws.org

Odd Wisconsin: Soldier’s conscience trumped direct orders

Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin Historical Society

Society depends on people obeying rules for the common good, but sometimes conscience is stronger than conformity.

This happened twice in 1862 to Col. Halbert Paine of Wisconsin’s 4th Cavalry, who disobeyed orders to return fugitive slaves to their owners and to burn the city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. . .

On June 5, 1862, Paine was ordered to send African-American slaves who’d taken refuge among his troops back to their owners. . . [Full text]