Council of Europe: conscientious objection under threat


At the request of members of The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) has prepared a memorandum examining the principal positions of the proposed resolution entitled “Women’s Access to Lawful Medical Care: The Problem of Unregulated Use of Conscientious Objection” presented by Christine McCafferty (see Press review of 21-25/06/10). This memorandum warned the members of the PACE that several recommendations of this resolution seriously violated doctors’ freedom of conscience as it is enshrined in European and international law.

Among other unacceptable positions, the proposed resolution asks the European member states:

to “oblige the healthcare provider to provide the desired treatment to which the patient is legally entitled [i.e. abortion] despite his or her conscientious objection“;
– to oblige the health professional to prove that “their objection is grounded in their conscience or religious beliefs and that the refusal is done in good faith“;
– to deprive “public/ state institutions such as public hospitals and clinics as a whole” of the “guarantee of the right to conscientious objection”;
– to create a “registry of conscientious objectors“;
– to create “an effective complaint mechanism” against conscientious objectors.

The ECLJ memorandum recalls and describes the main aspects of health professionals’ right to conscientious objection, based on a vast research of laws protecting their conscience in the 47 member states of the Council of Europe and the 50 states of the United States of America. Among others, it appears clearly in these legislations that the right to conscientious objection is guaranteed in European and international laws and by international laws of professional ethics, that it applies equally to individuals and institutions and that it is well regulated in the majority of democratic societies.


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