Initial indications were that the World Medical Association (WMA), a group of 115 national medical associations, would destroy conscience protections against things like abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia through its International Code of Medical Ethics. However, after years of debate and consideration, a sub-group of the World Medical Association developed a compromise at their August meeting in Washington, D.C., that would continue to protect the rights of conscientious objectors.
The weakening of conscientious objection by the World Medical Association would be devastating to the morale of pro-life physicians and health care workers. It has been a longstanding principle that physicians should not be forced to violate their sincerely and reasonably held beliefs against performing or making referrals for procedures they view as morally repugnant. The principle, conscientious objection, has historically protected them from performing or referring for procedures such as abortions, assisted suicide, euthanasia, and more.
Conscientious objection has fallen into disfavor by members of the European Parliament and the current Director of the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, Dr. Julian Savulescu. In a series of provocative and influential articles, Dr. Savulescu and his colleagues argued that conscientious objection was equivalent to substituting a doctor’s moral judgements for those of their patients. A prodigious and controversial writer, Dr. Savulescu has also opined in favor of eugenics and post-birth abortion (infanticide) and against the Texas Heartbeat Act.
READ: Biden HHS to release new regulations threatening conscience protections, group claims
In reaction to the apparent trend against conscientious objection by the World Health Organization, numerous organizations have led a campaign to protect it, including the Catholic Medical Association and the Patients Rights Action Fund. Notably, the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in the United Kingdom organized an international statement in support of conscientious objection directed toward the World Medical Association. The open letter has garnered over 250 signatures and is growing. According to the letter, “The duty of a physician to practise with conscience includes the duty not to act contrary to conscience.” The letter also makes a strong case against obligating physicians to “identify and refer to another healthcare professional who would provide the procedure.” This is generally labeled as an “effective referral” and is considered morally objectionable by physicians.
According to the open letter, pressure on the World Medical Association must be maintained in the lead up to their general meeting this October in Berlin, at which time a final vote will be taken.
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