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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude

Update 2014-09-01

1 September, 2014

Covering the period from 1 July to 31 August, 2014

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.

7.  Video

Presentations, discussions, etc.

8.  Audio

Presentations, discussions, etc.

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

With the Supreme Court scheduled to hear the case of Carter v. Canada, a lawsuit that seeks to legalize physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, the pressure to legalize the procedures is mounting.  An 85 year old woman in British Columbia killed herself with a drug overdose because she had developing dementia.  She made her death a political statement in favour of the legalization of assisted suicide, writing an extensive blog article explaining her decision and sending a letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun for posthumous publication.  Subsequently, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has dropped its opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia.  Delegates at its annual general meeting passed a motion stating that physicians may "follow their conscience" in deciding whether or not to participate in the procedures. 

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, state regulator of the practice of medicine, ended the first round of public consultation about its policy on freedom of conscience for physicians.  Much of the hostility to freedom of conscience comes from people or groups who are outraged that some physicians decline to prescribe or refer for contraception and abortion.  Once commentator bluntly wrote: "The current pressure on the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to change their human rights guidelines is all about forcing faithful Catholics out of the public square."

In any case, the review is particularly worrying given the push for euthanasia and assisted suicide.   The General Practice Section of the Ontario Medical Association wrote in support of physician freedom of conscience, as did the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ottawa in a joint submission with Rabbi Reuven Bulka and Imam Samy Metwally.  The Protection of Conscience Project submission stated that the Ontario Human Rights Commission "has contributed significantly to anti-religious sentiments and a climate of religious intolerance in Ontario."

Flag FinlandFinland

Over 18,000 Finns have expressed their support for a citizens' initiative calling for a right to health care professionals to refuse to participate in performing abortions on grounds of personal or religious convictions.

Flag IrelandIreland

An immigrant woman whom a friend says was raped in her country of origin discovered that she was pregnant after arriving in Ireland.  She apparentlyasked for an abortion when she was eight weeks pregnant, but it is not clear that she was then eligible for the procedure under the new Irish abortion law.  According to the reports, she again asked for an abortion in July, threatening suicide, and was found to be suicidal by a panel of two psychiatrists and an obstetrician.

The Irish Constitution and the Irish abortion law hold that the lives of both woman and child must be saved if practicable.  Since the pregnancy was so far advanced, it was decided that the baby should be delivered by Caesarean section as soon as it was thought to be viable.  The woman initially refused and refused to take food or fluids.  Medical authorities obtained a court order to rehydrate her.  She consented to the Caesarean and the baby was delivered at about 25 weeks gestation.  The baby is now apparently in state custody and being supported in a neonatal ward, while the mother is receiving psychiatric treatment.  The story has reignited the abortion controversy in Ireland.

Flag ItalyItaly

Italy's Senate is considering a bill that would require the government to provide people with with physical, mental or cognitive disabilities with "sexual assistants" to relieve their sexual urges.  It is reported that other European countries have such laws.  The hiring of prostitutes for the disabled was the subject of a paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics.  Demands that health care workers arrange for such services would likely generate conflicts of conscience among some. 

Flag NetherlandsNetherlands

A special clinic set up to help people whose doctors do not support euthanasia has been reprimanded for failings when it helped an elderly woman who did not want to live in a nursing home to die. The euthanasia monitoring committee said the clinic's experts had failed to exercise proper care when carrying out their duties.  The clinic was established to provide euthanasia for patients whose family physicians are unwilling to provide or facilitate the service.

Flag New ZealandNew Zealand

A website set up by the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) lists health professionals who refuse to prescribe contraceptives or provide or refer for abortions.  Some anti-abortion activists claim that the website is an attempt to intimidate objecting physicians, since people are invited to post anonymous complaints about practitioners.  However, the  chief executive of Marlborough Primary Health Organisation states that doctors in the area post notices in their practices if they do not prescribe contraceptives, and and website is "no different."

Flag PhilippinesPhilippines

The Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Philippines has issued a pastoral letter explaining that a ruling by the Supreme Court.  The Conference notes that the ruling ensures that objecting health care workers cannot be forced to prescribe, provide or refer for contraceptives.  The letter also explains other parts of the judgement that refer to abortifacients, sterilization and sex education.

Flag PolandPoland

Dr. Bogdan Chazan, director of Holy Family Hospital in Warsaw, has been fired by the Mayor of Warsaw for refusing to provide an abortion for a woman carrying a child that had been diagnosed with severe deformity, and for failing to refer the woman to a hospital that would do so.  Another hospital declined to perform an abortion because the pregnancy was too advanced (24 weeks) and the woman delivered the child on 30 June.  The baby died about ten days later.  There is a conflict between the Polish abortion law, which requires referral by an objecting physician, and the  Polish constitution, which guarantees freedom of conscience.  The Polish Prime Minister insists that objecting physicians must refer for abortion - which many refuse to do - and the woman is reported to be contemplating a lawsuit against Dr. Chazan.  Holy Family Hospital was also fined 70,000 zloty (almost $19,000.00 USD).

Flag SwedenSweden

Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the district court of Jönköping County Council in Sweden on behalf of a midwife whom three different medical clinics denied employment because she will not assist with abortions.

FLag UKUnited Kingdom

Fewer than one in five doctors would be willing to help patients end their  lives, according to a new poll.  A survey of 600 doctors found that 60 % are  against a change in the law to allow physician-assisted suicide- a 17% increase in opposition since 2004.  Consistent with this, the British Medical Association (BMA) has reiterated its opposition to legalising assisted suicide.  However, the BMA's publication, the British Medical Journal, is campaigning for a change in the law.  The Journal is editorially independent of the BMA.

Flag USAUnited States

A full issue of the American Journal of Bioethics is dedicated to an extended discussion of brain death.  The subject is important because of its relationship to organ retrieval, which is morally contentious if the donor is still alive.

Botched executions by lethal injection are generating controversy and leading to calls to involve medical professionals in executions.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Obama administration in the case of Hobby Lobby, holding that the regulation requiring the Christian-owned company to provide health insurance for embryodical forms of contraception was a violation of religous freedom.  Numerous lawsuits against the federal government are still pending.

Commentator Wesley J. Smith has drawn attention to efforts by the American Civil Liberties Union to encourage lawsuits agains health care institutions that refuse to provide or facilitate abortion or assisted suicide.

For reasons of conscience, a navy nurse at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay has refused to participate in force-feeding prisoners.


2.  News Items

You can search news items by date, country and topic in the Project News/Blog. 

Doctors Should Not Be Forced to Prescribe the Pill

Catholics urged to stand up for docs' rights

COLF urges Catholics to speak up for physicians' conscience rights

Ontario conscience debate is about forcing out Catholic doctors

Access to Birth Control Isn't Just About Doctors

Will Doctors Be Forced to Kill?

Lynched, fined, and dismissed: an interview with Poland’s Dr. Bogdan Chazan

Navy nurse refuses to force-feed Guantánamo captive

One Conscientious Objector at Gitmo Is Great – But It's Not Enough

Doctors' conscience rights under attack in birth control debate

Conscience rights for Ontario doctors may be on chopping block again

We need to remember the lessons on abortion and conscience before we legalise assisted suicide

Abortion row child dies

Philippines: Church encourages conscientious objection to contraception

Pro-life doctor who refused abortion to be sacked

The doctor who refused to abort

Poland asks: should a doctor serve God, or patients?

Italian bill would fund 'sex assistants' for the disabled

Polish conscience tested: the case of Professor Chazan

Anti-abortion doctor fired

If you want birth control pills, go to a different doctor

Calgary doctor who won't prescribe birth control backed by pro-life medical professionals

Policy allowing doctors to deny treatment on moral or religious grounds under review

BMA reiterates opposition to assisted dying

Citizens' initiative calls for right to conscientious objection in health care

Medical association vows to protect conscience rights

Euthanasia clinic reprimanded for death of stroke victim

Doctor-assisted death appropriate only after all other choices exhausted, CMA president says

Woman makes own suicide a part of campaign to change law

Increasing resistance to assisted suicide among U.K. physicians

Baby delivered at 25 weeks gestation in Ireland to avoid death by abortion

Canadian Medical Association Board of Directors confirms new assisted suicide, euthanasia policy

Richard Dawkins: 'Immoral' not to abort Down's foetuses

Health website 'not sinister'

Conscience should guide doctors at end of life

Doctors vote to 'follow their conscience' if assisted suicide becomes legal

Canadian Medical Association softens stand on assisted suicide

Abortion group targets pro-life doctors, nurses with new website: New Zealand

Canadian doctors want freedom to choose whether to help terminal patients die

How to ditch the Pill, naturally

Freedom from conscience

Defend Integrity

I was told to approve a lethal injection, but it violates my basic medical ethics

Input sought on physicians' conscience rights

Ottawa archbishop among religious urging CPSO not to violate physicians' conscience rights


3.  Recent Postings
Submissions to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario
Redefining the Practice of Medicine- Euthanasia in Quebec

Botched execution sparks outcry in US

Are we willing to make doctors into mere robots?

Medical aid in dying: Court challenge

Swedish midwife denied employment for being pro-life

Canadian Doctors Should Not be Forced to Do Abortions or Provide Birth Control

O Canada, Glorious and Free!

Pastoral Guidance on the Implementation of the Reproductive Health Law

What are the issues in post-mortem sperm retrieval?

When do we lose our human life?

Should governments pay for sex for the disabled?

Ethics should colour doctor's decisions


4.  Action Items

None noted.

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

Bernat JL.  Whither Brain Death? The American Journal of Bioethics, 14:8, 3-8, (2014) DOI:10.1080/15265161.2014.925153

Cohen IG, Fernandez Lynch H, Curfman GD. Perspective: When Religious Freedom Clashes with Access to Care.  N Engl J Med 2014; 371:596-599 August 14, 2014 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1407965

Sawicki NN. Clinicians' Involvement in Capital Punishment  -  Constitutional Implications. N Engl J Med 371;2 july 10, 2014

Smajdor A.  Perimortem gamete retrieval: should we worry about consent? J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101727. 

Thomsen FK. Prostitution, disability and prohibition.  J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2014-102215

Truog RD, Miller FG.  Changing the Conversation About Brain Death. The American Journal of Bioethics, 14:8, 9-14 (2014) DOI: 10.1080/15265161.2014.925154


7.  Video

Canadian Medical Association discussion of euthanasia and assisted suicide

Bishop expresses concern for freedom of conscience (Dr. Brendan Leahy, Limerick, Ireland)

When Freedoms Collide (Prof. Helen Alvaré, 2014 Sir John Graham Lecture, Maxim Institute, New Zealand)

8.  Audio

Should doctors have the right to refuse to prescribe birth control because of their religious beliefs? (Prof. Margaret Somerville vs. Prof. Arthur Schafer on CBC radio)