1 May, 2012
Covering the period from 1 March to 30 April, 2012
1. By Region/Country
Visit the Project News/Blog for details.
The Canadian Medical Association Journal has
reported that sex selective abortion is being practised in Canada, and
accompanied the report with an editorial denouncing the practice. The report and editorial demonstrate the
inconsistency of those in the medical and ethical establishment who
criticize health care workers who object to abortion for other reasons and
attempt to force them to facilitate the procedure by referral.
Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, has
issued a statement supporting the exercise of conscientious objection to
military service. He argues that objectors should be given a
"genuinely civilian" alternative to compulsory military service, not
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has passed a resolution that
insistst that euthanasia "must always be
prohibited." It thus seems less likely that
health care workers who object to euthanasia
will be pressured to participate in the
procedure. However, the document makes no
reference to assisted suicide.
A panel of 13 'experts' chaired by Mr. Justice SeÃ¡n Ryan of the High
Court of Ireland is to study a European Court of Human Rights ruling on
abortion and advise the government what should be done in response. Four members of the panel
have been identified by anti-abortion groups in the country as having
previously indicated that they favour legalizing abortion or reducing
restrictions on it.
Sindh, the second largest province in Pakistan, is
setting up a Population Council for the purpose of
implementing a population control programme. Among
the concerns voiced by supporters of the plan is that
most people are reluctant to adopt contraception, and
that many medical professionals object to abortion for
religious reasons. The development of a state
population control programme with a view to overcoming
resistance to contraception and abortion among the
population and medical professionals warrants the
continuing attention of those concerned to protect
freedom of conscience in health care.
The UNESCO Chair in Bioethics at the University of Barcelona told the press that Spain should
establish a national registry of physicians who object to abortion.
Registries of sex offenders, parolees, and gun owners are maintained in some
jurisdictions. However, there are strong objections to making citizens
who wish to exercise fundamental freedoms register with the government.
Dr. Carmen Rodriguez, the president of
the official physician's association for the
region of Asturias in the north of Spain, told a
local paper that society can make laws
concerning abortion, but cannot force physicians
to participate in them.
Dr. Manuel Resa, a physician who has resisted attempts to force him to
participate in abortions, has been granted an injunction a Spanish appeal
court. This means that he will not be forced to participate
in abortion pending the outcome of his civil suit seeking recognition of his
freedom to refuse to facilitate abortion.
The new Spanish government plans to revise the country's abortion law.
It is possible that the changes will include provisions to ensure freedom of
conscience for health care workers, something that the previous government
attempted to suppress.
A Bill to Enact the Safe Motherhood Law
(2012) will be proposed
in Tanzania in February for the purpose of enforcing 'rights to access
reproductive health care,' a term frequently associated with suppression of
freedom of conscience among health care workers.
A survey published in the British Medical
Journal found that more than 10% of British
scientists or physicians have witnessed intentional
fabrication of data during research, and 6% were aware
that research misconduct had not been properly
investigated. The results suggest that conflicts of conscience might
arise among those expected to collaborate in such
fabrications, or to cover them up.
Ethicist Anna Smajdor is defending the proposition that artificial wombs
should be developed so that women no longer have to bear children. Her arguments illustrate the kind of moral
controversies engendered by technology that can lead to conscientious
objection by health care workers.
Scotland's largest health board, the National Health Service Greater Glasgow and Clyde,
ordered two Catholic midwives to schedule and supervise other health care
workers providing abortion. When they went to court to resist, the judge ruled that
against them. She ruled that the protection of conscience clause in
the Abortion Act (1967) must be interpreted to refer only to direct
Trevor Phillips, the chairman of Britain's
Equality and Human
Rights Commission, has said that religious believers should not be
free to adhere to their own tenets when acting in the public domain. Applied in health care,
this would result in
the closure or state expropriation of dissenting denominational health care
facilities, and the suppression of freedom of conscience in medical
A report produced by a private Commission on
Assisted Dying has recommended that assisted suicide be legalized in the
United Kingdom for any competent person over 18 years old who is terminally
ill and expected to live less than 12 months. It also recommends that
physicians who refuse to assist with suicide for reasons of conscience be
compelled to refer patients to colleagues who will do so.
Member of the European Parliament
Roger Helmer has written in favour of assisted
suicide on grounds beyond those recommended by a
recent report by a private commission. It is not
clear whether or not he would insist that health care workers be obliged to
assist, or that he recognizes the probability of conflicts of conscience
among health care workers.
The Commons Backbench Business Committee has decided that the
Commons will debate the assisted suicide guidelines
published by the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2010. There is a
chance that the debate could lead to legalization of the procedure in those
cases excluded from prosecution by the guidelines, since the British
Secretary of State for Justice has stated that assisted suicide should
not be legalized by policy, but by a decision of Parliament enacted in
The American College of Physicians
has acknowledged that
physicians who object to "abortion, sterilization, contraception or other
reproductive services . . . is not obligated to recommend, perform or
Addressing American bishops at the Vatican,
Pope Benedict XVI warned of
"grave threats to the Church's public moral
witness presented by a radical secularism."
He voiced special concern about "certain
attempts" to limit freedom of religion.
The birth control insurance controversy
Shortly after the Pope's address, the
US Department of Health and Human Services confirmed that, as of
1 August, 2012, it will force employers who have more than 50 employees to pay for
insurance coverage for contraceptives and
embryocidal drugs and services even if they object to doing
so for reasons of conscience. It added that the rule will not be applied to
non-profit institutions until August, 2013.
The delay appears to have been calculated to put off serious conflict
with the Catholic Church and other religious denominations until after the
presidential election in November. However, the tactic was a
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops characterized the
decision as an unprecedented attack on religious liberty. The
16,000-member Christian Medical Association stated that it
was part of "a deplorable pattern of disregard for First Amendment
freedoms." The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)
protested that the new regulations "trample on our most cherished freedoms
and set a dangerous precedent."
The HHS decision was also criticized by
spokesmen for Jewish groups, Agudath Israel
and the Orthodox Union.
Solidarity with the Catholic bishops was
experssed by Rick Warren, a prominent Evangelical
Christan pastor, and by
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
A statement from the Southern Baptist's
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
later denounced the plans.
In the weeks following the January
announcement, Catholic bishops unanimously
protested the proposed regulation. Letters
were read from pulpits across the country, and
many bishops flatly stated that they would not
comply with the law. US military
authorities at first forbade the reading of and
then censored the letter from the Archbishop of
the Catholic military diocese, adding to outrage
about government suppression of religious
freedom. As a direct result of the HHS
regulation, the Religious Freedom Protection Act
of 2012 was introduced in the US Senate and 154 members of the US House of Representatives signed a letter
of protest to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
The White House Press first downplayed the explosion of protest, but
on 10 February President Obama was forced to respond to the situation.
He offered what he described as an accommodation that would see
insurance companies provide birth control coverage free of charge and
assume responsibility for approaching non-profit employees about it.
However, the regulation that prompted the firestorm was promulgated
without any change, with only a promise to work on an alternative over
the coming year.
The administration's offer generated a suspicious, guarded and critical
response from the Catholic bishops. It has been dismissed as "a cheap
accounting trick" and " a grave violation of religious freedom" by a sharply worded open letter
signed by over 200 people, including religious leaders of different
denominations, college presidents, academics, religious leaders and
journalists. 2,500 religious leaders from different denominations have
signed a protest against it, while an on-line letter from women opposed to
the measure gathered 2,500 signatures in about a week.
The regulation is generating civil actions against the federal government.
Lawsuits have been filed by Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida,
Louisiana College in Alexandria, Louisiana, and
Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, the
Eternal Word Television Network
(EWTN) and Priests for Life,
none of whom are considered 'religious employers' as defined by the Obama
Ten witnesses representing Judaism and Christianity appeared before the
US House of Representatives
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to explain the reasons for
their opposition to the Obama administration's plan.
Members of legislatures in at least 47 U.S.
states are preparing a variety of legislative
measures to "limit, alter or oppose" the
implementation of the federal Affordable Care
Act. Many states have already passed laws
or constitutional revisions for this purpose.
State House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution supporting a
federal bill that would stop the imposition of the
birth control insurance mandate. Bills drafted for the same purpose
have been introduced in the Michigan state legislature, in
Missouri, and Arizona.
Oklahoma, South Carolina, Florida and
have filed a lawsuit against the federal government. The suit alleges
violation of the First Amendment and the
Religious Freedom Restoration Act through
the HHS birth control mandate that will
force insurance coverage for surgical
sterilization, contraceptives and
Attention has been drawn to a study that
has revealed that almost half the Catholic hospitals
surveyed in seven states performed over 20,000 surgical sterilizations and
billed them as "sterilization for contraceptive management." The results of the study are disputed
by Catholic Health Association, but the researcher has challenged the
Association to make good its criticism.
The study is of particular interest because
of the strong stand being taken by the
Catholic bishops against being made
to provide insurance for surgical
Also of interest is a 1994 bill introduced in the US Senate by Democratic Party Senator
Daniel Moynihan, which included the kind of protection of conscience
provision now being denied to religious
employers by President Obama, also a
While the controversy about the birth
control insurance mandate is not directly
relevant to the exercise of freedom of
conscience by health care workers and
institutions, it would be naive to think
that it will not have an impact on
protection of conscience advocacy in the
A protection of conscience bill concerning abortion
has been proposed in Kansas, and a bill
that passed the South Carolina House of
Representatives last year is to be considered by the state senate. It
is a procedure-specific statute that focuses on
embryonic and foetal research and acts that cause the
death of an individual.
In the New Hampshire, one
of only three states that lack protective
legislation for health care workers, the House
Judiciary Committee has
approved a protection
of conscience bill. It has been criticized by Wesley J. Smith, who
wants the bill revised so that it cannot be used
to justify patient abandonment.
A national pro-life advocate has warned that protection of conscience laws
like the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act and
Mississippi's Health Care
Rights of Conscience Act are dangerous because
they may permit health care workers to commit
euthanasia by withdrawing or refusing to provide
medical treatment for reasons of conscience.
The United States District Court has ruled
that the Washington State
Department of Health designed regulations for
the express purpose of forcing pharmacists with
religious objections to the morning after pill
to dispense the drug. He permanently
enjoined enforcement of the regulations.
2. News Items
All news items are now on the Project
News/Blog, archived by country. They can also be
searched by topic using the blog search box.
3. Recent Postings
All recent postings are now on the
Project News/Blog, archived by year and month.
4. Action Items
The Project will post notices of conferences
that are explore and support the principle freedom of conscience, including the
legitimate role of moral or religious conviction in shaping law and public
policy in pluralist states or societies.
6. Publications of Interest
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Duke University) and Franklin G. Miller (National
Institutes of Health) have published a paper titled,
"What makes killing wrong?"
Their conclusion is that killing is
wrong because it causes total disability, and that the moral rule against
killing is superfluous.
The paper illustrates, at several points, how conflicts of conscience may
arise during end-of-life decision making and organ transplantation.