Bill to ensure conscientious objection rights for all medical professionals passes Second Reading

Baroness O’Loan’s Conscientious Objection (Medical Activites) Bill which seeks to ensure conscience rights for all medical professionals has received a second reading in the House of Lords today.

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.

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. Not only is this discriminatory, it could also mean healthcare professions will become increasingly less diverse, inclusive, and representative of the views of the general population.

An Inquiry in 2016 found that some doctors and nurses face discrimination in the workplace due to their conscientious objection to practices that they believe end a human life.

The conscience rights of midwives were also undermined by a 2014 Supreme Court judgment, which held that the conscience provision in the Abortion Act 1967 did not cover aspects of their employment.

A recent ComRes poll found that a majority of the public oppose forcing doctors to participate in abortion procedures against their will if they want to remain in their profession.

The Free Conscience campaign, which has been launched today to support the Bill, is calling on the public to visit their website (www.freeconscience.org.uk) where they can write to their MP, asking them to support the Bill.

Baroness O’Loan said:

The reasonable accommodation of conscientious objection is a matter both of liberty and equality: of individual freedom and social inclusion. That is why I believe this is important and timely legislation. I am very happy that many members wished to contribute to the Second Reading debate. The Conscientious Objection Bill’s provisions deserve support from all parts of society, and from all sides of the Lords and the Commons. In passing it we will be able to engage in the well overdue restoration of an important medical freedom”.

Baroness Cox, former Vice-Chair of the Royal College of Nurses, said:

For the sake of those going into the medical professions, for the sake of the patients they will serve, for the sake of the integrity of medical professionals and therefore medicine itself, I think ensuring that conscientious objection is given proper protection in law is a truly important reform that ought to be made, and for that reason I am delighted this Bill has been proposed”.

Baroness Eaton said:

If we care about conscience in society, and particularly in medicine, then we should maintain a framing of our laws that allows for as much liberality as is sensibly feasible in conscientious objection when it comes to the perceived ending of human life. This Bill achieves that very thing, and for that reason I am delighted it has been introduced, and passionately support it.”.

Mary Doogan, one of the two midwives in the Greater Glasgow Health Board v Doogan & Anor case, and spokesperson for the www.freeconscience.org.uk campaign 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 and spokesperson for the www.freeconscience.org.uk campaign 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.

Free Conscience Campaign 

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