31 December, 2013
Covering the period from 1 November, 2013 to 31 December, 2013
1. By Region/Country
Visit the Project News/Blog for details.
The Australian Medical Students’
Association (AMSA) demands that physicians who believe abortion is wrong
should be forced to direct patients to a colleague willing to provide it.
The attitude is consistent with a controversial law passed in the State of
Victoria, which requires objecting physicians to refer to non-objecting
colleagues. The law has been publicly challenged by a physician who
refused to refer a woman 19 weeks pregnant for a sex selective abortion.
However, a petition to the Victorian parliament supporting the physician
contained only 13 signatures. Tasmania has passed a new abortion law
that includes a requirement that objecting physicians provide patients with
a "list of prescribed health services," but the law is not clear about
whether or not the physician is permitted to provide any information or
advice beyond what the state has approved.
The cause for freedom of conscience in health care was damaged by
reprehensible comments made on Facebook by a physician that resulted in a
The Belgian Senate has approved a bill authorizing euthanasia for children.
Reports from Belgium suggest that objection to euthanasia has become a minority
position in the country, and that increasing acceptance of the practice has led
to its normalization, evidenced by the development of "new rituals" like a "last
supper," final manicures and other forms of advance preparation. One marker of
this is the report that a Catholic priest was present and administered the
sacrament of the sick to two deaf twins who were lethally injected because they
were going blind; their family was described as devoutly Catholic.
Dr. Wim Distelmans is a Belgian physician who is a leading practitioner
and advocate of euthanasia. He has provided euthanasia in a number of high-profile
cases, and in "a lot more borderline cases," but declines to discuss them.
He is also co-chairman of the federal commission that reviews reports of
euthanasia. In an interview with a National Post reporter, he said that
many physicians, hospitals and nursing homes are reluctant to provide the
service, though it is not clear why. Dr. Distelmans implies that a physician has
"a medical responsibility" to
provide euthanasia in appropriate cases.
The Jewish General Hospital (JGH) strongly opposes Bill 60, on the
grounds that the plan by the current Government of Quebec to ban overt
religious symbols in the clothing of healthcare employees is discriminatory
and deeply insulting to public-sector workers.
In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada has struck down three
laws restricting prostitution. Some observers are of the view that the
ruling increases the likelihood that assisted suicide or euthanasia will be
legalized in Canada, either by judicial fiat or by legislation supporting
such a change. In the prostitution judgement, the court granted lower
courts much greater latitude to set aside earlier Supreme Court
precedents if new legal issues are raised, or if there has been some other
change that "fundamentally shifts the parameters of the debate." The
Supreme Court is set to hear an appeal from British Columbia in the case of
Carter v. Canada, which turns on a precedent established by the
Supreme Court in 1993 in the Rodriguez case.
A family in Canada has gone to court to stop the spoon-feeding of their
elderly mother, who has Alzheimer's disease. She is not force-fed if
she does not open her mouth. Her family has cites her "living will"
signed in 1991, about ten years before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,
as justifying the cessation of feeding. The nursing home refuses to
starve the woman to death, which would be the consequence of following the
A panel of 18 people deemed representative of society, appointed by the
French national ethics committee had decided that euthanasia/assisted
suicide is a "legitimate right" for the dying or terminally ill. The
ethics committee had previously advised the French government against
legalizing the procedures because of concern that it would be "dangerous"
for society. French President Francois Hollande is reported to be
planning to bring forward a bill.
Although the ink is hardly dry on the new Irish abortion law, an
amendment has already been proposed to extend the grounds for abortion to
include cases of severe foetal anomalies. Expansion of the grounds for
abortion usually increases the likelihood of conscientious objection.
According to a report from the Italian Ministry of Health, the abortion
rate has continued to drop in the country, a trend evident since 1982.
There has also been an increase in conscientious objection to abortion among
health care workers. In Campania, almost 90% of gynaecologists refuse
to perform the procedure, and the rate for all of southern Italy is about
Ten physicians at the Ljubljana UKC hospital’s surgery programme
heart defects of children are reported to have
used a “conscience clause” in order to deal with a dispute
involving the occasional engagement of foreign surgeons.
Their complaint centres on the fact that a visiting Israeli
surgeon does not remain for post-operative care of the children.
It is not clear how this could have been done, since
Slovenian protection of conscience laws are not
applicable in the situation described. The report
elsewhere refers to the physicians’ action as a “collective
News Service] The engagement of the Israeli surgeon
had previously been found to be and example of corruption [STA
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases concerning the
controversial federal regulation that compels businesses employing more than
50 people to provide health insurance for birth control and surgical
sterilization, even if the business owners object to doing so for reasons of
conscience. In one case (Hobby Lobby) the lower court supported the
plaintiff’s position; in the other (Conestoga Wood Specialties) the lower
court supported the federal government. U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Sonia Sotomayor issued an injunction against the U.S. federal government
preventing it from enforcing a controversial regulation against the Little
Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged. Other cases are continuing.
Meanwhile, the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote to
President Obama asking that enforcement of the regulation be suspended until
the Supreme Court has ruled on the issue in two cases it has agreed to
A lawsuit has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB),
alleging that the health care directives of the Conference were
responsible for the failure of a Catholic hospital to properly treat a woman
who was miscarrying a pregnancy at 18 weeks gestation. Neither the hospital
nor the treating physicians are named in the suit. As a result, the claim is
not for medical malpractice or medical negligence by the physicians or
hospital, but for negligence by the USCCB.
Representative Becky Nordgren of Alabama, is proposing a
Health Care Right of Conscience Act in the state legislature.
The bill is intended to protect all health care providers from being
compelled to participate, directly or indirectly, in abortion, human
cloning, human embryonic stem cell research, and sterilization if they
object to the procedures for reasons of conscience.
Protection of conscience provisions are included in a bill to legalize
assisted suicide in Massachusetts for residents who are at
least 18 years old and diagnosed with a terminal illness with a life
expectancy of six months or less. It is not clear from the text of the
statute whether or not an objector is exempt from all parts of the assisted
suicide process ,or only from the requirement to actually provide the lethal
medication [per Section 4(1)].
2. News Items
You can search news items by date, country and topic in the
3. Recent Postings
Impartiality, complicity and perversity
medical education make physicians susceptible to participating
General Hospital strongly opposes Bill 60 as patently
professionals participated in cruelty and torture
New Tasmanian abortion law
(protection of conscience provision)
Tasmanian abortion law (comment)
Alabama HB 31 Health Care Right of Conscience Act
Massachusetts HB 1998 (Protection of conscience provision in
assisted suicide bill)
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.
Conference on Medicine & Religion
to Limits and Possibilities of the Body
March 7-9, 2014
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Truth, Conscience and Religious Freedom
April 4-5, 2014
Franciscan University of
Steubenville, Ohio, USA
6. Publications of Interest
Conscientious objection by Muslim students startling. J Med
Ethics November 2013 Vol. 39 No. 11
Goldbert J, Jotkowitz A. "In Defense of Religious Bioethics."
American Journal of Bioethics, December, Vol. 12, No. 12, 2012