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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude

Update 2014-11-01

1 November, 2014

Covering the period from 1 September to 31 October, 2014

1.  By Region/Country

Developments relevant to freedom of conscience. Australia - Belgium - Canada - European Union  - Germany - Ireland - United Kingdom - United States

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.

The Premier and Opposition Leader in the state of Victoria told a Christian lobby group that they will allow a conscience vote if a private members' bill is introduced to restore freedom to doctors to decline to participate in abortion.  In 2008, the state of Victoria passed a law that requires an objecting physician to refer a patient to a non-objecting colleague for abortion.  The law was and is opposed by objecting physicians and others, including the Australian Medical Association. 


A husband and wife in their late eighties, not ill, have announced that they plan to have a physician kill them as a couple under the Belgian euthanasia law.  Their children have found a physician willing to do so on the grounds of "mental anguish."  For the same reason, judges have granted the request of a serial murderer and rapist who has been in jail for 30 years.  He is said to be suffering from "mental anguish" because he has no prospect of release.

Flag CanadaCanada

Justin Trudeau, leader of the Canadian Liberal Party, has declared that a purported "right" to abortion and contraception is more important than freedom of conscience and expression.  He has reaffirmed his intention to enforce his views by suppressing freedom of conscience and expression with respect to abortion among Liberal members of parliament, who will be required to vote the party line.  It seems likely from his public statements that he would apply the same reasoning to euthanasia and assisted suicide, should the procedures be legalized by the Supreme Court of Canada in the pending case of Carter v. Canada.  Given his attitude, it would seem that the Liberal Party of Canada will act to suppress freedom of conscience in health care if it comes to power, or will, at least, fail to provide any support for it.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the state regulator of the practice of medicine in the province, is reviewing its policy on freedom of conscience for physicians.  A first phase of public consultation  attracted almost 1,800 responses in a discussion forum, most supportive of freedom of conscience.  The straw poll on the consultation page asked the question, "Do you think a physician should be allowed to refuse to provide a patient with a treatment or procedure because it conflicts with the physician's religious or moral beliefs?"  32,912 respondents, 25,230 (77%)  of 32,912 respondents answered "Yes", 7,616 (23%) answered "No" and 66 were undecided.

The Catholic Civil Rights League, Faith and Freedom Alliance and the Protection of Conscience Project were jointly granted intervener status in Carter v. Canada by the Supreme Court of Canada.  In addition to factum, we were allowed an oral submission when the case was heard in October.  The  joint intervention emphasized that legalization of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia would likely adversely affect physicians and health care workers who object to the procedures for reasons of conscience.  In the event that the court strikes down the law, counsel asked the court to direct legislators to provide robust protection of conscience provisions to ensure that objecting health care workers could not be forced to provide euthanasia or assisted suicide or euthanasia, or to facilitate it through referral.  Although the Canadian Medical Association also intervened and made an oral submission which highlighted freedom of conscience for physicians, it did not address the issue of referral.  In an email to the Project Administrator, a physician who was in the courtroom during the hearing said "it was important for that issue to be voiced and it came best from your organization."

Flag-EUEuropean Union

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe received evidence that babies who survive late term abortions are born alive and left to die or killed.  Reports from medical workers suggest that babies who survive abortions are disposed of with hospital waste or left to die in other rooms or storerooms, despite signs of life. Others receive lethal injections or are smothered.  The Committee decided to take no action.


The ruling Christian Democrat party has rejected a recommendation from the National Ethics Council that incest between consenting adults should be decriminalized.  The Council argued that a "social taboo" should not be supported by criminal law, and that "The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination is to be weighed more heavily than the abstract idea of protection of the family."  The Council held that, since the law did not prohibit non-incestuous sexual relations even when there is a possibility of genetic problems in offspring, it is not justified in prohibiting incestuous relations. Although it is not clear from the news report that the Council considered the point, it could also be argued that the use of contraceptive sterilization or contraception backed up by abortion would avoid genetic problems. In any case, conflicts of conscience could be expected if there is an expectation that health care workers will facilitate incestuous relationships.


Nine members of the Irish medical team at Galway University hospital have been disciplined for failings in the treatment of Savita Halappanavar, who died of severe sepsis in the hospital in 2012 after being admitted for a miscarriage.  The legal prohibition of abortion in Ireland at the time she was in hospital has been repeatedly cited in media reports as having led to her death. However, an emergency induction/abortion of the kind contemplated in the new Irish abortion law was legal at that time and had already been decided upon when she spontaneously delivered a stillborn daughter.

FLag UKUnited Kingdom

In 2004, Natasha Smith survived an abortion by induced labour at 26 weeks gestation.  She has just had a tenth birthday, and is good health.  The case illustrates two points of interest. First: it is legitimate to make an ethical or moral distinction between "termination of a pregnancy" and "abortion" (with the intention of causing death) after the point at which an infant may be able to survive with neonatal intensive care.  Second: late term abortions undertaken with the intention of causing death may, in fact, result in the live birth of an infant who may die, or who may, if assisted, survive like Natasha.  This is a vivid illustration of the reason some health care workers are unwilling to participate in abortion, but, depending upon how the surviving infant is treated (palliative care; deliberate neglect; killing), may also cause conflicts of conscience.

Large numbers of general practitioners are seeking permission to refuse to accept new patients and/or reducing the geographic coverage of their practices.  Doctors are warning that  services are "on the brink of collapse."  It does not seem that public authorities like the General Medical Council recognize that the suppression of freedom of conscience among practitioners is likely to make things worse.

Repeating a message she delivered in New Zealand in 2010, Ann Furedi, CEO of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, argues that the existing English abortion law should be scrapped because abortion is simply another form of birth control. She noted that abortion rates do not drop when more effective means of contraception are available because women are no longer willing to tolerate the consequences of contraceptive failure.  This indicates that acceptance of contraception necessarily entails the provision of abortion.

Flag USAUnited States

A Navy nurse who, for reasons of conscience, has refused to force feed hunger-striking Guantanamo detainees, may be discharged from the U.S. military and denied pension benefits.  His commanding officer declined to proceed by way of court martial, instead choosing a process through which the nurse must show cause why he should not be dismissed.


2.  News Items

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

Decriminalize incest, says German gvmt's ethics council

Elderly couple to die together by assisted suicide even though they are not ill

Girl 'aborted' to save her mother's life celebrates 10th birthday

Canadian Liberal party leader orders end to freedom of conscience and expression in party

Serial murderer and rapist, 50, given right to die under controversial Belgian euthanasia laws

Navy nurse faces expulsion after refusing to force feed Gitmo detainees

Murderer in non-capital punishment Belgium granted request to die

Savita Halappanavar death: nine members of medical team disciplined

GP crisis as soaring numbers refusing to take patients

Assisted dying: When what if becomes what is

Babies born alive during abortion will receive no help from the Council of Europe, documents show

Spare parts child or saviour sibling?

There's no "mushy middle" on euthanasia

Babies born alive during abortion will receive no help from the Council of Europe, documents show

Spare parts child or saviour sibling?


3.  Recent Postings

Victorian Premier and Opposition Leader pledge to allow conscience vote on forcing doctors to participate in abortion

Protest held outside Polish embassy in defence of dismissed doctor

The Illusion of Neutrality

Freedom of conscience

Freedom of conscience for Ontario physicians a prominent concern

British Pregnancy Advisory Service head says abortion is just birth control

Project intervenes in the Supreme Court of Canada

Joint intervention in Carter v. Canada

Promises, promises: Canadian law reformers promise tolerance, freedom of conscience.  What happens after the law is changed is another story.

Moral Conscience Through the Ages: Fifth Century BCE to the Present


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

Nordstrand SJ, Nordstrandagnus MA, Nortvedt P,  Magelssen.  Medical students'attitudes towards conscientious objection: a survey  J Med Ethics 2014;40:609-612 doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101482

Foster C.  Dignity and the Ownership and Use of Body Parts.  Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics / Volume 23 / Issue 04 / October 2014, pp 417-430

7.  Video

Justin Trudeau and the Doctrine of Double Truth (Douglas Farrow, Professor of Christian Thought and Kennedy Smith Chair of Catholic Studies, McGill University.  Justin Trudeau's 'doctrine of double truth' leads to suppression of freedom.

8.  Audio

Health Care Workers & Conscience Pt. 1 (Bridget Campion, Moira McQueen: Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute)

Health Care Workers & Conscience, Pt. 2 (Bridget Campion, Moira McQueen: Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute)