VATICAN CITY, JUNE 18, 2001 ( John Paul II said that health care agents are "servants and guardians of life," and called for all legislation to respect their freedom of conscience when the system imposes the practice of abortion or euthanasia.

The Holy Father pointed out that Catholic health care agents in some countries are faced with the dilemma of leaving their profession, because the health system obliges them to practice abortions, sterilizations, euthanasia and other practices against human life, thus violating their most fundamental convictions.

"The conflict between social pressure and the demands of right conscience can lead to the dilemma either of abandoning the medical profession or of compromising one´s convictions," he said.

"Faced with that tension, we must remember that there is a middle path which opens up before Catholic health workers who are faithful to their conscience," the Pope continued. "It is the path of conscientious objection, which ought to be respected by all, especially legislators."

The Bishop of Rome expressed these thoughts when he addressed the 140 participants, from 40 countries, in the International Congress of Catholic Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The congress is being held in Rome today through Wednesday on the topic: "The Future of Obstetrics and Gynecology: The Fundamental Human Right to Practice and Be Trained According to Conscience."

The meeting was called by the World of the Catholic Medical Associations and by MaterCare International ( in cooperation with the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers.

An informative note, published by the Vatican agency Fides, explained a key concern of the participants in the congress: "In the realm of hospitals and universities, the pressure is increasingly stronger on Catholic doctors and on those opposed to abortion: The objective is to make them accept the practice of sterilization or abortion, under pain of professional marginalization."

Because of this, the Pope made the following appeal to doctors, lawmakers, politicians and others: "In striving to serve life, we must work to ensure that the right to professional training and practice, which is respectful of conscience in law and in practice, is guaranteed."

"Catholics must work for redress, wherever the right to train for and practice medicine with respect for one´s moral convictions is violated," the Pope concluded.