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Protection of Conscience Project

www.consciencelaws.org

Service, not Servitude

About the Protection of Conscience Project

General

Organization

The Project is a non-denominational, non-profit initiative supported by an  Advisory Board and Project team.

Purpose

The Project operates a website in order to

  • advocate for protection of conscience legislation;

  • facilitate communication and co-operation among protection of conscience advocates;

  • provide legislative draftsmen with useful information;

  • promote clarification and understanding of the issues involved to assist in reasoned public discussion;

  • act as a clearing house for reports from people who have been discriminated against for reasons of conscience, directing them to legal assistance and other support when possible.

General Policy

The Project does not take a position on the morality of contentious procedures.  Instead, it critiques policies of coercion and encourages accommodation of objecting health care workers.  It does not direct or manage protection of conscience initiatives. The people best placed to deal with a problem are those directly involved. For the benefit of those working for protection of conscience, the Project

  • provides information
  • offers suggestions
  • encourages co-operation
  • facilitates communication

As the opportunity arises, the Project responds to critics and draws attention to attitudes, policies and laws that fail to make sufficient allowance for legitimate freedom of conscience.

Scope and limitations of Project advocacy

Freedom of conscience is a fundamental freedom that is important to both religious and non-religious believers in many different contexts. Unfortunately, people in all walks of life around the world suffer under the heel of repressive and discriminatory laws and policies that attack their ability to live and work according to their conscientious convictions.

Focus: health care

Nonetheless, it appears that, even in self-professed liberal democracies - if not especially there - deliberate and continuing attempts to suppress freedom of conscience are disproportionately directed at physicians, pharmacists, nurses, other medical professionals and health care providers. Hence, the activities of the Protection of Conscience Project are limited to the preservation and protection of freedom of conscience in the delivery of health care. This does not imply that preservation of freedom of conscience in other contexts is less important.

Claims of conscience

Given this focus, a further question arises. Claims of conscience are often made by people on both sides of controversial issues. For example: physicians may assert that their desire to provide a procedure or service is motivated by their conscientious convictions; others may explain their refusal to provide the same service in exactly the same terms. The former hold that they are conscience-driven to do a good that they believe ought to be done, the latter that they are similarly driven to refuse to do an evil that ought to be avoided.

The key distinction

Here one encounters an important distinction that is often missed in discussions about the limits of democratic freedoms. It is one thing to limit freedom of conscience by enacting laws that prevent people from doing everything that they want to do. But to force people to do things that offend their conscientious convictions cannot be reconciled with the best traditions and aspirations of liberal democracy. It is, in principle, inconsistent with the most rudimentary principles of civic friendship, a serious assault on the essential foundation of fundamental freedom, and offensive to human dignity. It is a fundamental injustice that cannot be rectified or ameliorated by appeals to theories of justice or notions of equality.

Securing the foundation

Thus, the Protection of Conscience Project, without denying the importance of freedom of conscience in its widest sense, restricts the scope of its activity to advocacy for freedom of conscience in its most essential and foundational sense. Simply put, those providing health care must not be forced to do what they believe to be wrong, or punished for refusing to do so.

 

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