By Antonio Gaspari
STRASBOURG, France, OCT. 22, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Earlier this month, the Council of Europe decided to uphold the right to conscientious objection of medical practitioners, faced to the critics who proposed removing this right.
The council not only rejected a proposal by British politician Christine McCafferty, who called for the abolishment of this right of medical staff to deny referring women for abortions, but it also changed the text to affirm, defend and promote the right to conscientious objection.
ZENIT spoke with Luca Volonté, an Italian politician of the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats, which is associated with the European People’s Party, about the significance of this unexpected reverse that was seen as an important victory for pro-life supporters.
ZENIT: What is the good news? What happened in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe?
Volonté: The good news is that, 60 years after its signing, the solemn commitments of the Convention on Human Rights of the Council of Europe are still alive and well.
The action led by our parliamentary group, which received the support of very many European NGOs, several Christian Churches and many lay exponents, not only “knocked down” the McCafferty Report, which would restrict and abolish conscientious objection in all the council’s countries, but it reaffirmed the inalienability of human rights and of liberty of conscience in Europe.
ZENIT: How did the debate unfold and how did it arrive at such a favorable success for the culture of life?
Volonté: It was an intense and controversial debate, where on one side we from the [European People’s Party] tried to clarify rapidly that we would oppose firmly the destruction of human rights, and on the other, there was a repetition of false and spent slogans.
False, because they stemmed from the denial of reality; in fact, all the countries of the council have direct health provisions that value conscientious objection and allow health benefits for all.
Spent, because the firm affirmation appeared, from the debate on the first amendment, of the centrality of liberty of conscience in the medical realm for all individuals and institutions.
We gave opposing reasons and defended human rights, and the Socialists constantly repeated slogans from the era of the “sexual revolution.”
Thus, vote after vote, with a tactic planned to the last detail, we dismantled the McCafferty Report and replaced it with firm and emblematic affirmations on liberty and the right to conscientious objection.
ZENIT: What were the threats? What did the McCafferty Report propose?
Volonté: The threats were clear; they were so from the start of the debate in 2009: to reduce the right to conscientious objection for doctors and adjust it for the paramedical staff and public and private hospital structures.
At the same time, the report included dangerous proposals such as the introduction of the “human right to abortion” and disturbing oscillations, juridically null, between human rights recognized by hundreds of agreements and universal declarations and imaginary (ideological) rights to reproductive health (abortion) and euthanasia.
The approval of the report was much anticipated by Socialist governments (such as the Zapatero administration in Spain) and, according to McCafferty, also by the Strasbourg Court, to interpret and promote decisions and legislation that would abolish conscientious objection for doctors, paramedics and hospitals.
ZENIT: How can the results of this debate concretely influence medical practice?
Volonté: Now, despite the fact that the resolution does not have an “obligatory” character for parliaments and governments, it will be much easier in internal and international courts to defend the right to conscientious objection in all the countries of the Council of Europe.
Parties and provident movements will be able to challenge unjust laws and bring more force to bear on courts. The Spanish are already moving in this direction.
From our work, a truly positive revolution might be born for Europe. It has been both a concrete as well as symbolic victory.
ZENIT: Many consider the success of this debate a sign of the times, the tip of the iceberg of a cultural model favorable to life which is emerging, after so many years of the culture of death. What is your opinion in this respect?
Volonté: I don’t know if it’s a sign of the times; many European provident movements must work in a different way, some are already doing so and the results are there for all to see.
However, the culture of life is the only reasonable hope of future life for the European continent that is experiencing a suicidal demographic crisis.
Hence, there are good reasons to hope and much work to be done; we are only at the beginning but as pilgrims of all times teach us, the journey begins with one step. “Sursum Corda” (Lift up your hearts)!