Human Rights proposal to stop doctors objecting to abortions on grounds of conscience

October 6th, 2010
Human Rights proposal to stop doctors objecting to abortions on grounds of conscience

An increase in figures of doctors not willing to carry out abortions has led to Europe’s most renowned human rights association to take steps in preventing them from letting their morals dictate their professionalism.

Previously ousted at the general election, British Socialist member Christine McCafferty has called for a ban in the rights of doctors choosing not to refer women for abortions.

Under General Medical Council guidelines all doctors must instruct women wanting abortions to consult with professionals who are able to deliver this procedure, as opposed to simply providing them with information or suggesting they meet with another doctor for a second opinion.

The resolution calls for a register of doctors against abortion as well as a complaints process for women disappointed by the dismissal of support regarding abortions.  The proposal will also ‘oblige the healthcare provider to provide the desired treatment to which the patient is legally entitled despite his or her conscientious objection…when referral to another healthcare provider is not possible’ – for example, when there is no ‘equivalent practitioner within a reasonable distance’.

Miss McCafferty said that the Council is ‘concerned that the unregulated use of conscientious objection disproportionately affects women, notably those having low incomes or living in rural areas.’  She added: ‘There is a need to balance the right of conscientious objection of an individual not to perform a certain medical procedure with the responsibility of the profession and the right of each patient to access lawful medical care in a timely manner’.

Should the resolution pass, it will be non-binding but may be used for leeway on governments to constrain laws on principled reluctance.

Spokesman for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, Anthony Ozimic said:’ Council of Europe member-states will be under pressure effectively to abolish in law and practice conscientious objection within medicine’.

Established in 1949, the Strasbourg-based Council was created in order for human rights law to be integrated within Europe.  Based on the European Convention on Human Rights it includes the European Court of Human rights, enabling Europeans to bring cases should they feel their rights violated by a member state.

Members of the European Union maintain their sovereign powers to choose their own policies, and although conscientious objection is considered a primary human right within international law, abortion is not.

Although Miss McCafferty’s proposal has come about 2 years after the Council approved a resolution asking for member states to acknowledge abortion as a global human right as well as allow women the choice to choose the service, there is a strong chance that the resolution will be passed.  In order to for this to be granted, it needs to be approved by the 47-strong Committee of Ministers (including Foreign Secretary William Hague) before it is recognised as a formal policy.

According to reports such a proposal has come about due to findings that women in countries such as Austria are having to travel abroad for abortions due to several doctors choosing against referring them for the procedure.  In places such as Italy, approximately 86 % of doctors in the Lazio region have refused to partake in abortions; with Britain’s Baroness Royall, a former Health spokeswoman, admitting that many doctors are choosing more and more to refuse work in abortion wards.

Dr Michael Jarmulowicz of the Catholic Medical Association said: “Every individual of whatever faith or none has to act according to their consciences.  If they don’t act according to their consciences they are doing wrong.

‘No one individual has a right to say ‘my wish over-rides your conscience’…doctors are not reports who do just what patients tell them.’

He added: ‘This is very clearly an attack on people of faith, who are more likely to have an objection to abortion than those who have none, though there are many atheists who recognise abortion as wrong, especially on any grounds.

‘It is an example of the rising intolerance which the Pope has urged us to stand against in witness to our faith.”

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