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Doctor’s freedom protected: Norwegian Supreme Court affirms conscience rights of medical staff

Alliance Defending Freedom

October 12, 2018 (Alliance Defending Freedom) – On 11 October 2018, the Supreme Court of Norway set a new precedent on conscientious objection and freedom of conscience in the medical profession. The Court found that Dr. Katarzyna Jachimowicz acted within her rights when refusing to follow through with a medical procedure to which she had a moral objection. The Court told health authorities to respect the right to conscientious objection for medical professionals in their employment.

"Today's Supreme Court decision marks an important step in the right direction, not only for doctors, but for people of faith in all professions. The ruling protects one of the most fundamental rights, the right to act in accordance with one's deeply held beliefs. Dr. Jachimowicz takes her vocation as a medical professional seriously. She vowed to protect life, and objected to having any part in taking it. The Court established today that she had every right to do so," said Håkon Bleken, who represented Dr. Jachimowicz before the Court.

"Nobody should be forced to choose between following their conscience or pursuing their profession. We welcome this ruling from the Norwegian Supreme Court. It will set new standards for the protection of fundamental conscience rights in Norway and beyond. The Court's findings recognize the fundamental right to conscientious objection for medical staff, as protected by international law," said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International, a human rights organization that supported the case.

Important win for all European medical professionals

In 2015, Dr. Jachimowicz lost her employment with a General Practitioner Clinic in the municipality of Sauherad. She had refused to insert intrauterine devices (IUDs), which can act as abortifacients. Administering a procedure that could result in abortion contradicted her Christian faith.

International law protects the right of medical staff to conscientious objection. Nevertheless, her superiors fired Dr. Jachimowicz because she failed to comply with an instruction that she considered to be morally wrong. A lower court found that she had acted within her right to practise medicine in accordance with her conscience but healthcare authorities appealed the decision. The case was then heard at the Supreme Court of Norway at the end of August 2018.

"This win comes at a time when medical professionals across Europe are feeling increasingly threatened in their positions by a pressure to do things they believe to be morally wrong and unethical. As such, it provides a valuable legal precedent in protecting this inherent freedom across the continent. This judgment sends a clear message to the Norwegian authorities that conscience is a fundamental right under the European Convention on Human Rights which must be protected," said Clarke.

Published with permission from the Alliance Defending Freedom.

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