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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude

Update 2012-07-01

1 July, 2012

Covering the period from 1 May to 30 June, 2012

1.  By Region/Country

Developments relevant to freedom of conscience.

2.  News Items

Links to news summaries.

3.  Recent Postings

Links to resources added to Project site.

4.  Action Items

Support protection of conscience initiatives near you.

5.  Conferences/Papers

Seminars, conferences and workshops relevant to conscience advocacy.

6.  Publications of Interest

Relevant to freedom of conscience issues.

1.  By Region/Country
Visit the Project News/Blog for details.

A Global Charter of Conscience has been drafted and published, "by people of many faiths and none, politicians of many persuasions, academics and NGOs, all committed to a partnership on behalf of 'freedom of thought, conscience and religion' for people of all faiths and none."


 The Voluntary Euthanasia Bill 2012, a private member's bill rejected by the South Australia House of Assembly, included a protection of conscience provision that protected euthanasia practitioners from civil and criminal liability, it did not include this protection for conscientious objectors.


 A judge of the British Columbia Supreme Court has struck down sections of the Criminal Code prohibiting physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, given the Government of Canada one year to draft a law allowing the procedures, and granted a woman with ALS a "constitutional exemption" that will allow her to have a court authorize assisted suicide or euthanasia in her case in the interim. [Ruling] Meanwhile, the Quebec Minister of Health, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Quebec, are trying to determine how to allow assisted suicide and euthanasia in the province, though the procedures are criminal offences in Canada.

In contrast, the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians has rejected a recommendation from a Quebec legislative committee that euthanasia and physician assisted suicide be legalized.  The CSPCP statement indicates the probability that conflicts of conscience will arise among health care professionals if the procedures are legalized.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a 12 page Pastoral Letter on Freedom of Conscience and Religion.  The document emphasizes that freedom of conscience may be acknowledged by state authority, but state authority does not create it.  It recommends four strategies: affirmation of the role of religion in the public square, upholding a healthy relationship between Church and stated, forming conscience according to truth, and protecting the right to conscientious objection.


The German Medical Association has acknowledged and apologized for the participation of German physicians, including "leading members of the medical community," in Nazi programs of forced sterilization, euthanasia, and human experimentation. [Washington Post]  The statement should give pause to those who believe that physicians should be forced to comply with the ethical norms of a predominant medical or ethical establishment that contradict their moral or ethical beliefs.

New Zealand

The Chair of the New Zealand Medical Association has stated that the Association would continue to be opposed to euthanasia even if the procedure were legalized.

United Kingdom

Despite claims that 80% of the British population supports euthanasia and assisted suicide, and that 40% of physicians do so, the British Medical Association has voted against supporting a euthanasia bill being proposed in the Scots parliament.  Strong views were expressed by those on opposite sides of the issue.

The chairman of the Healthcare Reference Group of Britain's Catholic bishops' conference, has warned that a draft General Medical Council guideline on personal beliefs and medical practice  is likely to produce an "atmosphere of fear" among physicians who are religious believers.  The General Medical Council is the state agency that regulates the medical profession. [Project submission to the GMC]

Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has directed the National Health Service (NHS) to provide artificial reproduction at public expense to homosexual couples and to women up to the age of 42.  While the provision of such services is morally controversial, Britain's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act includes a protection of conscience clause that prevents anyone having an objection to a service provided from being compelled to participate in it.

United States

 Protection of conscience laws have been passed in Arizona [SB 1365] and Kanas  [SB62].

 A federal judge in Tampa, Florida has ruled that a rape complainant who was a prisoner can sue the Hillsborough County Sheriff because a guard, citing religious belief, refused to give her a prescribed morning after pill. 

A former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and a professor at Harvard Medical School are urging that American physicians practice civil disobedience by refusing to obey laws that block access to abortion and contraception.  [USA Today]  What is remarkable is that the authors appear to be appealing to physicians to exercise freedom of conscience in support of abortion and contraception, while denying the legitimacy of the exercise of freedom of conscience by physicians and others opposed to such services.

A New York Times article outlines the controversy concerning the morning after pill over whether or not the drug may have an embryocidal effect by interfering with implantation.  Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that he would be "relieved" if the drug did not affect implantation, but did not believe that the issue had been resolved.

The controversy over the federal Department of Health and Human Services regulation that forces employers to provide employee insurance for contraception, embryocides and surgical sterilization appears to be escalating.  A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care reform law that is the basis for the regulation.  The decision does not deal with the regulation itself.  43 Catholic dioceses, organizations and and institutions have filed 12 lawsuits against the U.S. federal government to stop the regulation.  Civil actions have also been filed by Legatus, a national organization of Catholic business leaders, and the Weingartz Supply Company, a Michigan retailer, the President of which is a member of Legatus.

 The Catholic Health Association of the United States, which first responded favourably to a purported accommodation by the administration, has now formally stated its opposition to the regulation.  However, some others opposed to the mandate believe that what the CHA suggests by way of accommodation is only marginally better than what the administration has offered, and thus unsatisfactory.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops maintains that the regulation is unlawful and have asked Catholics in the United States to participate in a "Fortnight for Freedom" in defence of freedom of conscience and religion from 21 June to 4 July, 2012.  A bulletin insert about freedom of conscience has been made available to parishes in the United States.  The Conference supports freedom of conscience for individual employers in private business as well as identifiably Catholic organizations. 

The Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, has announced that it will cease providing health insurance coverage for students and will no longer require them to have health insurance.  The decision was made because the University refuses to comply with the regulation.[University statement]

Resistance to the regulation is not limited to the Catholic Church.  A non-profit, non-partisan, public policy advocacy organization called Conscience Cause has been formed to advocate for freedom of conscience in the United States. The Collegium Aesculapium Foundation, an association of Mormon physicians and health care professionals, is opposed to the regulation, as is the 16,000 member Christian Medical Association, which calls the plan "unlawful and unprecedented."

Papual New Guinea

Catholic Bishops in Papua New Guinea state that their schools will not comply with a government policy requiring the distribution of condoms to students.  The Episcopal Conference is prepared to defend its decision in court should the government try to  enforce the policy.


Senate Bill 2865, a controversial Reproductive Health bill, will progess to the amendment stage in the Philippines Congress.  House Bill 4244 or the Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health And Population And Development Act Of 2011, is the House counterpart of the Senate bill.  The latter includes provisions problematic with respect to freedom of conscience.


A Swedish health authority has ruled that physicians must facilitate abortions if patients request them even if they are doubtful about the mental stability of the patient.  The case clearly did not involve conscientious objection to abortion and appears to have been complicated by concerns about violation of patient confidentiality.  However, it is likely that the ruling will be cited by those who wish to force physicians to refer for or otherwise facilitate abortion or other morally contested procedures.


A plan put forward by the parliament of the Swiss canton of Vaud to oblige nursing homes to accept assisted suicide has been approved by the electorate.  The new law is supported by associations of Vaud nursing homes and physicians.  It does not appear that a rejection of both positions in favour of a ban on assisted suicide was considered, nor does it appear that there was a discussion of the possibility of conscientious objection. 

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


5.  Conferences/Papers

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

 The Case for Kidney Donation Before End-of-Life Care. Paul E. Morrissey, The American Journal of Bioethics Vol. 12, Iss. 6, 2012

Brooke Winner, M.D., et al, Effectiveness of Long-Acting Reversible Contraception.  N Engl J Med 2012; 366:1998-2007

 Card, Robert F. Is there no alternative? Conscientious objection by medical students. Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2011-100190

From the Project

Protection of Conscience Project Submission to the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom Re: Personal beliefs and medical practice: A draft for consultation

7.  Video


8.  Audio