01 February 2018
Conscientious objection bill for health professionals ‘increasingly necessary’
Baroness Nuala O’Loan has told The Tablet that healthcare professionals are “increasingly being asked to do things which they in conscience cannot do”, as her bill on conscientious objection had a second reading in the House of Lords.
She said the bill aims “to afford protection to those in healthcare who object on grounds of conscience to being asked to participate in treatment which will end in the termination of life” and grew out of concern that medics are unable to apply for certain roles because of their pro-life stance.
For instance, she explained, a 2016 parliamentary inquiry into freedom of conscience over abortion had heard evidence of discrimination against people and there were young doctors and nurses who would like to have pursued obstetrics and gynaecology but couldn’t because it would have meant involvement with abortion.
Speaking in the Lords, Baroness O’Loan reflected on the UK’s “long and proud recognition of rights of conscience” in two world wars and said current protections, in the 1967 Abortion Act and the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, were not strong or wide enough.
“Where conscientious objection is permitted, it is not absolute …Some, like GPs, have contractual rights not to engage, but it is a contractual right, not a statutory right, and some have no rights at all,” she pointed out. She said she was concerned, for example, that changes in the way abortion takes place have meant it affects a wider set of professionals, because of the increasing trend for abortion to be carried out through medication rather than surgically, which therefore affects pharmacists.
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