Response to Head 12: Conscientious Objection
(1) Nothing in this Bill shall be construed as obliging any medical practitioner, nurse or midwife to carry out, or to assist in carrying out, a lawful termination of pregnancy.
(2) Nothing in subhead (1) shall affect any duty to participate in treatment under Head 4.
(3) No institution, organisation or third party shall refuse to provide a lawful termination of pregnancy to a woman on grounds of conscientious objection.
(4) In the event of a doctor or other health professional having a difficulty in undertaking a required medical procedure, he or she will have a duty to ensure that another colleague takes over the care of the patient as per current medical ethics.
Doctors for Life Irelandmakes the following Recommendations:
- The right to individual conscientious objection must be extended to medical and nursing students.
- The restriction of the right conscientious objection to individuals, as distinct to institutions, cannot be justified. Institutions have a right to protect their ethos under Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Resolution 1763 (2010) and Resolution 1928 (2013), adopted April 24th, 2013, which calls on member states to (inter alia):
9.8. ensure that the religious beliefs and traditions of individuals and communities of the society are respected, while guaranteeing that a due balance is struck with the rights of others in accordance with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights;
9.9. accommodate religious beliefs in the public sphere by guaranteeing freedom of thought in relation to health care, education and the civil service provided that the rights of others to be free from discrimination are respected and that the access to lawful services is guaranteed;
9.10. ensure the right to well-defined conscientious objection in relation to morally sensitive matters, such as military service or other services related to health-care and education, in line also with various recommendations already adopted by the Assembly, provided that the rights of others to be free from discrimination are respected and that the access to lawful services is guaranteed;
9.12. change their legal regulations whenever these go against the freedom of association for groups (including churches) defined by their religion or beliefs;
9.13. ensure the full respect of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and relevant jurisprudence by the European Court of Human Rights since 1949 and that the freedom of communities and individuals defined by religion or belief is respected and exercised within the limits of the law.
- A doctor who exercises the right to conscientious objection should not be obliged to refer the patient for the very procedure to which he/she conscientiously objects. The British GMC guidelines on conscientious objection are more nuanced than those of the Irish Medical Council and state:
52 You must explain to patients if you have a conscientious objection to a particular procedure. You must tell them about their right to see another doctor and make sure they have enough information to exercise that right. In providing this information you must not imply or express disapproval of the patient’s lifestyle, choices or beliefs. If it is not practical for a patient to arrange to see another doctor, you must make sure that arrangements are made for another suitably qualified colleague to take over your role.
The current wording in Head 12 (1), although it protects a doctor refusing to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of conscientious objection from legal prosecution under headings 2 and 3, it does not protect them from being discriminated against by employers or other bodies, such as academic bodies conferring qualifications or awards (amongst others).
It requires specific wording to protect them from such discrimination; for example
” No person, institution or other body may discriminate against any doctor on the grounds that they will not carry out a termination under the concientious objection clause”
The present wording of Head 12 subhead (2) is wholly unclear and the meaning of it cannot be understood clearly; it is even consceivable that it could be construed to mean that a doctor does not have the right to refuse to carry out a termination in any situation covered by Head 4. As this would be contrary to the ECHR rulings (Article 9) amongst others.it cannot remain as it is but must beclarified. If the government are inteding to force all doctors to carry out or assist in the carrying out of termination where there is risk of loss of life of the mother from self-destruction as outlined in Head 4, then they must come out and clearly say so.