Europe Upholds Right to Conscientious Objection

Doctor Affirms Ethical Values of Medical Work

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STRASBOURG, France, OCT. 8, 2010 ( The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe decided to uphold the right to conscientious objection of medical practitioners, faced to the critics who proposed doing removing this right.

Christine McCafferty, a British politician, proposed a resolution calling for the abolishment of this right of medical staff to deny referring women for abortions.

Her report on «Women’s Access to Lawful Medical Care: The Problem of Unregulated Use of Conscientious Objection» was submitted to the parliamentary assembly for debate and vote on Thursday.

In what the European Centre for Law and Justice called a «historic reversal,» the proposal was replaced with a new text, titled «The Right to Conscientious Objection in Lawful Medical Care,» which affirms, defends and promotes this right.

The director of this center, Gregor Puppinck, said in a press release today, «The Council of Europe reaffirms the fundamental value of human conscience, and of liberty in the face of attempts at ideological manipulation of science and of medicine.»

He continued: «The McCafferty Report was an aberration and we are delighted that a large majority of deputies are poised to defend the values on which the council is founded: respect of liberty, of conscience and of life.

«Independence of science and of medicine is also an essential value at the heart of democracies.»

The center noted that the new text stated: «No one hospital, institution or person may be subject to pressures, or be held liable or suffer discrimination of any kind for refusing to perform, allow or assist an abortion, miscarriage or induced euthanasia, or for refusing to perform any intervention to cause the death of foetus or an embryo, whatever the reasons.»

As well, the assembly issued an invitation to the member states to develop their own regulations to guarantee this right to conscientious objection.

Moral grounds

Puppinck affirmed that «the McCafferty Report was defeated because its primary objective was not only practical but also profoundly symbolic.»

He continued: «Effectively, it would have a bearing on the moral qualification of abortion, euthanasia and of the exercise of the conscience: the ‘right to abortion or euthanasia’ would become the rule and conscientious objection would become the exception.

«To reduce the fundamental right of moral objection to a mere exception amounts to a reversal in the moral relationship between abortion or euthanasia and conscientious objection. Conscientious objection would become in some way immoral because it is contrary to the ‘right to abortion.'»

Puppinck noted that «freedom is a condition of the exercise of medicine and of the conscience that was affirmed with force during the Nuremburg trials; it is important to remember this and defend this fundamental liberty.»

Andrew Fergusson, former chairman of the Professional Conduct Committees at the U.K. General Medical Council, spoke at the assembly, underlining the ethical values of medical practitioners.

«Practicing good medicine is a moral activity and not just a technical one,» he said. «The foundational values of medicine are part of physicians’ understanding of who they are and they have provided the basis for historical codes of medical ethics, such as the Hippocratic Oath, the Declaration of Geneva, and the U.K. General Medical Council’s Good Medical Practice.»

Fergusson affirmed: «These core ethical values become part of the physician’s understanding of who they are and what they have entered medicine for. They are central to the doctor’s self identity.»

«And when a person is coerced by employers, or by the power of the state, to act in a way which transgresses these core ethical values,» he warned, «then their internal moral integrity is damaged.»

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