Wednesday June 23, 2010

Council of Europe Declaration Seeks to “Regulate” Physician Conscience on Abortion

By Hilary White

STRASBOURG, June 23, 2010 ( – The “problem of unregulated use of conscientious objection” by doctors who do not wish to commit abortions must be addressed by the European authorities, says a draft declaration of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

Prepared by the UK’s Christine McCafferty for the PACE Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee, the draft declaration calls for the establishment of “comprehensive and clear legal and policy framework governing the practice of conscientious objection by healthcare providers” with an “effective oversight and complaint mechanism.”

Under the document’s guidelines, doctors would be obliged to provide patients with information on “all treatment options available” and to refer patients upon request. Moreover, in cases of “emergency” or “when referral to another healthcare provider is not possible,” the doctor with the conscientious objection would be obliged to “provide the desired treatment” against his will.

In a move that could have massive impact on Catholic health institutions, many of which receive state funding, the draft declaration also proposes that the “guarantee” for the right to conscientious objection should only be afforded to “individual healthcare providers directly involved in the performance of the procedure” and not to “public/state institutions such as public hospitals and clinics as a whole.”

“While recognising the right of an individual to conscientiously object to performing a certain medical procedure,” it says, the Parliamentary Assembly “is deeply concerned about the increasing and largely unregulated occurrence” of doctors and other health care workers refusing to provide “certain health services based on religious, moral or philosophical objections.”

This practice, the draft document says, is especially of concern “in the field of reproductive health care.” It speaks of the “need to balance the right of conscientious objection” with “the responsibility of the profession and the right of each patient to access lawful medical care in a timely manner.”

Apart from abortion, the document calls into question physicians’ conscience rights on providing artificial contraceptives and abortifacients such as the morning-after pill, assisted reproduction treatments, preimplantation diagnosis and prenatal “screening,” which often includes advice on abortion.

The document “invites” the 47 member states of the Council of Europe to “develop comprehensive and clear regulations that define and regulate conscientious objection.” It will be debated by the Parliamentary Assembly during its next Autumn plenary Session.

A draft document on “regulating” individual conscience is much in keeping with previous decisions by PACE which passed a resolution in 2008 declaring unlimited legal abortion an “unconditional right.”

Read related LSN coverage:

Proposed Council of Europe Report Calls Creationism “Dangerous,” “Threat to Human Rights”

Link to draft resolution: