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Ethics – Freedom of conscience for medics

March 2018

Baroness O’Loan
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Medical professionals may be given freedom of conscience over ethical decisions, if a bill is passed into British law.

Brought to ensure conscientious objection rights for all medical professionals, the Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill, sponsored by Baroness Nuala O’Loan, was debated in Parliament earlier this year.

The bill aims to clarify the law to ensure conscience protections are in place for all medical professionals, to protect them from discrimination, enabling them to fully participate in their chosen professions and care for patients to the best of their ability.

Under the existing law, some medical professionals are not protected from unjust discrimination. GPs, as well as many nurses, midwives, pharmacists and other medical professionals, have limited statutory conscience protection.

As a result, some areas of the healthcare profession are becoming increasingly inhospitable for those with certain deeply held moral, philosophical or religious views, as ET has reported in the past on many occasions.

Not only is this discriminatory, it could also mean healthcare professions will become increasingly less diverse, inclusive and representative of the views of the general population.

In 2016, an inquiry found some doctors and nurses faced discrimination in the workplace due to their conscientious objection to practices they believe end human life. The conscience rights of midwives were also undermined by a 2014 Supreme Court judgment, which held that the conscience provision in the Abortion Act 1967 did not cover aspects of their employment.

Baroness O’Loan said: ‘The reasonable accommodation of conscientious objection is a matter both of liberty and equality: of individual freedom and social inclusion.

‘The Conscientious Objection Bill’s provisions deserve support from all parts of society, and from all sides of the Lords and Commons. In passing it, we will be able to engage in the well overdue restoration of an important medical freedom’.

Midwife Mary Doogan, spokesperson for the campaign, said: ‘As medical professionals, we owe patients not only our efforts, but also our best moral judgment, and this bill would allow us once again to practise with the greatest integrity. I fully support this important legislation and commend it to Parliament and the wider public’.