The Catholic Church in Scotland has welcomed Baroness O’Loan’s Conscientious Objection (Medical Activites) Bill which seeks to ensure conscience rights for all medical professionals and received a second reading in the House of Lords on Friday. The Director of the Church’s Parliamentary Office has also called for similar legislation in Scotland.
The Bill clarifies 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.
Commenting on the Bill, Anthony Horan, Director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office said: “This Bill could restore the fuller right of conscientious objection that was lost when the UK Supreme Court ruled that Glasgow midwives Mary Doogan and Connie Wood did not have a legal right to object to involvement in the abortion process. It is quite astonishing that anybody would deny another this basic right of conscience, a denial which flies in the face of Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights which protects the ‘right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’.”
Mr Horan added: “While the Bill only applies to England and Wales, its progress should be of interest to people in Scotland, where hopefully a similar bill could be presented to the Scottish Parliament. Conscientious objection is a widely respected concept with considerable international and national laws, guidance, and conventions protecting the right, a Scottish Bill would bring Scotland into line with international norms.”
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.
Mary Doogan, one of the two midwives in the Greater Glasgow Health Board case said: “I am very glad to see that there is finally Parliamentary action taking place to restore the conscience rights of those who work tirelessly day in and day out to serve and care for others. As medical professionals, we owe patients not only our efforts but also our best moral judgement, 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”.
Dr Mary Neal, leading conscience expert, senior lecturer at Strathclyde University said: “There is a pressing need for statutory conscience rights which actually protect those who need protection. The current law fails to do this, so this Bill is a necessary and timely step. I am heartened to see our legislators turning their attention to this issue, and I welcome this Bill as a necessary and timely step.
Picture: File photo of a ward in a hospital. (Peter Byrne/PA).