Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude
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The commentaries provided on the website are not a substitute for legal advice provided by a qualified professional. 

When can a doctor conscientiously object?

  • Bernard G. Prusak  | Over the last decade, the culture wars in the United States have broken new ground: They have become battles over the rights of conscience. For example, now that same-sex marriage is a right, the question before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop is whether its sympathetic, telegenic owner, Jack Phillips, is within his rights to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. Similarly, under the Obama administration, the court heard arguments more than once over whether employers who object on religious grounds to contraceptives or abortion should be exempted from having to provide employees health insurance that includes such services. . .
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Medics should not be forced to do procedures they object to on ethical grounds

  • David S. Oderberg  | For most people, the term "conscientious objection" evokes images of Quakers and pacifists registering to avoid military service. Many countries have a long and honourable tradition of accommodating such conscientious objectors. It might not be about bombs and bullets, but healthcare professionals often find themselves fighting a conscience battle of their own. . .
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Abortion law reform and conscientious objection in the United Kingdom

  • Jacky Engel  | Jacky Engel reviews the legal history of abortion in the United Kingdom from 'Lord Ellenborough's Act' of 1803, though most of her attention is directed to developments beginning with the Bourne case of 1939. Ms. Engel's discussion of the parliamentary debates in 1967 is reproduced below because of its references to conscientious objection.
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Conscientious Objection to Abortion: Ethics, Polemics and Law

  • Charles Foster  | The pro-abortion lobby has announced the latest phase in its offensive. Marie Stopes International wants to force GP surgeries to display lists indicating which doctors in the practice will refer women for abortion, and the pressure group Doctors for a Woman's Choice on Abortion is encouraging patients to report to the GMC doctors who refuse to play any part in abortion. . .
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Conscientious Objection

  • Robin Haig   |   The article below, written by one of ALDU's officers, appeared in ALDU's Newsletter in the Winter of 1982 and considered the question of conscientious objection to abortion and how this might affect the position of doctors.
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Conscientious objection and the worrying implications of the Glasgow midwives case

  • Philippa Taylor  | The right for health professionals to exercise their conscientious objection to participating in abortion – or indeed to choose on occasion to limit the areas in which they work in order not to be ethically compromised – has been under assault worldwide for some time now. . . Now the right for health professionals to exercise their conscientious objection has been put under even more pressure in the UK after the Supreme Court today rejected an appeal for conscientious objection for senior midwives who refused to supervise abortions performed on a labour ward. It has also delivered a controversial ruling on referrals for abortion.
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Re: House of Lords Select Committee
on Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill

Selections from the First Report

In 2003 Lord Joffe introduced a private member's bill into Parliament, the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill, which progressed only to second reading. In March of the following year he introduced another private member's bill (Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill). It received Second Reading and was referred to a House of Lords committee for detailed examination.  Extracts concerning conscientious objection and freedom of conscience in witness testimony and written evidence are noted below.

Examination of witnesses

  • All extracts
  • PROFESSOR JOHN HARRIS, University of Manchester, PROFESSOR SHEILA MCLEAN, Glasgow university, DR EVAN HARRIS, a Member of the House of Commons, MISS DEBORAH ANNETTS, Chief Executive, Voluntary Euthanasia Society, and MR TL BARCLAY (Q1-19; Q20-27)
  • LORD JOFFE: Explains amendment to remove requirement for referral by objecting physician. (Q70-79)
  • Witnesses: DR MICHAEL WILKS, Chairman, Medical Ethics Committee, DR VIVIENNE NATHANSON, Director of Professional Activities, British Medical Association, PROFESSOR SIR GRAEME CATTO, President, and MS JANE O'BRIEN, Head of Standards, General Medical Council, examined. (Q281-299; Q300-319) (Q340-353)

Written evidence

The bill included an exemption for conscientious objectors (Clause 7) which required an objecting physician refer a patient to a colleague willing to process a euthanasia request. This elicited protests during the examination of witnesses and inwritten evidence and an adverse judgement from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, as a result of which Lord Joffe agreed to remove the provision for mandatory referral.

Clause 7 (from the Bill)

From Chapter 4 (from the report)

From Chapter 7 (from the report)

Re: House of Lords & Commons Joint Committee On Human Rights