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Ethics – Medical conscience rights

May 2018

Baroness O’ Loan
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Members of the House of Lords have heard arguments for and against allowing medical practitioners to have conscience rights enshrined into UK law.

In March, Baroness O’Loan’s Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill went to the Committee Stage in the House of Lords.

The bill will clarify the law to ensure conscience protections are in place for medical practitioners to protect them from discrimination, enabling them to fully participate in their chosen professions and care for patients to the best of their ability. It will also allow practitioners to withdraw from end-of-life treatment, activities under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, and abortion.

Under the existing law, some medical professionals are not protected from unjust discrimination. Currently, 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 difficult places to work in for those with certain deeply held moral views.

According to a statement by the Free Conscience Campaign, an inquiry in 2016 found some doctors and nurses face discrimination in the workplace due to their conscientious objection to practices that they believe end human life. It stated that the conscience rights of midwives were also undermined by a 2014 Supreme Court judgment.

The Free Conscience Campaign, which has been launched to support the bill, is calling on the public to visit their website (www.freeconscience.org.uk) where they can write to their MP, asking them to support the bill.

Baroness O’Loan said, ‘No one should be coerced by the risk to their careers into violating their conscience. It is plainly inconsistent with the principles of equality legislation to exclude whole sections of society from areas of medical employment simply because of their moral beliefs’.