Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 67(1) February 2017
The All-Party Parliamentary Pro–Life Group Report into Freedom of Conscience in Abortion Provision. July 2016
Dr Tony Cole JP FRCPE FRCPCH
The All-Party Parliamentiary Pro-Life Group initiated a parliamentary inquiry into the actual working of conscience clauses in connection with abortion, embryo research and euthanasia. Oral and written submissions were taken by a panel of Parliamentarians with different views on these sensitive subjects. Amongst contributors were several members of the Catholic Medical Association (as published in the October Catholic Medical Quarterly), the British Medical Association and other healthcare professionals and interested bodies. There were nine recommendations, some more concrete than others.
A cross–party Parliamentary Commission consisting of Parliamentarians with differing views on abortion, euthanasia, assisted reproduction and embryo research should be established to bring together practitioners, lawyers, campaigners and academics from different fields to examine the role of conscience in “British Values”, and any new “British Bill of Rights.”
The Government should commission a full review into training students in ethical and moral matters relating to medicine, with special attention given to full information throughout about their right to conscientiously object.
The General Medical Council should maintain their current guidelines regarding referrals, thereby ensuring that no doctor who has a conscientious objection to abortion should be required to refer a patient to another practitioner.
All professional healthcare bodies should adopt the wording of the current G M C guidelines to help facilitate consistency, thereby ensuring that no healthcare professional who has a conscientious objection to abortion is required to refer a patient to another practitioner.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is requested to publish a statement in response to this Inquiry to clarify their view on career progression for healthcare professionals who conscientiously object to abortion.
Government and NHS governing bodies should ensure that an appropriate appeal system for those who believe they have been discriminated against because of their conscientious objection is set up.
Medical guidelines such as those published by the General Medical Council should offer guidance to managers and other healthcare professionals who do not have a conscientious objection to any medical procedure, stating how those with a conscientious objection to a procedure should be fairly and respectfully treated.
Guidelines should also propose solutions for how employers can effectively accommodate practitioners with a conscientious objection.
The Government should consider the feasibility of extending conscientious objection to indirect participation in abortion by authorising trials in several hospital departments and clinics across the country.
That consideration be given to the introduction of "Reasonable Accommodation" into legislation in this country, in the form of an amendment to the Equality Act 2010.
Discussion and comment
Though we may welcome these recommendations some are more likely to be implemented than others but all are part of the public record and may be quoted by healthcare workers in their real life situations. A serious cross-party report based on evidence taken does carry weight. Therefore persons in such situations may wish to quote them to their employers or advisors. The absence of respect for conscience is intolerable. I like to quote professor John Wyatt who said at a recent Medical Ethics Alliance conference, "To make someone act against their conscience is a rape of the heart"
A full copy of this report, with submissions, can be accessed at http://www.conscienceinquiry.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Final-report-Parliamentary-Inquiry-into-Freedom-of-Conscience-in-Abortion-Provision-All-Party-Parliamentary-Pro-Life-Group.pdf.pdf