Medicine

Call to ban doctors from conscientious objection

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Doctors working in the public system should not be able to object to performing procedures such as abortions or prescribing contraception on the basis of their own values or religious beliefs, says bioethicist Professor Julian Savulescu, who is speaking on the topic of conscientious objection in medicine at QUT’s Australian Centre for Health Law Research (ACHLR) on August 30 2016.

Professor Savulescu will argue for restrictions on the right to conscientious objection; that doctors and health professionals should enter only medical specialities in which their values will not be in conflict with routine legal medical procedures within that specialisation; and for removing the monopoly on such services from the medical profession.

Situations in which conscientious objections may be made by health workers include: withdrawal of treatment at end of life, assisted dying (legal in some overseas countries), contraception, sterilisation, and, more commonly, abortion.

Professor Savulescu said: “When a medical procedure, or one which doctors have a monopoly over, is desired by the patient, in the patient’s interests, and is a legal and reasonable use of limited resources, then that procedure ought to be provided by doctors. There is no place for conscientious objection at the bedside in these circumstances.”

ACHLR co-director Professor Lindy Willmott said Professor Savulescu’s lecture was timely given the imminent report on the current Queensland Parliamentary Inquiry into Laws Governing Termination of Pregnancy in Queensland, to which she and fellow co-director Professor Ben White have made a submission.

“The Inquiry report is due to be released August 26 , and will consider decriminalising abortion in Queensland,” Professor Willmott said.

“The Inquiry is also considering the issue of conscientious objections to performing terminations, and whether the Queensland law should permit doctors to object.”

Ahead of the Inquiry report, Queensland Independent MP Rob Pyne last week introduced a Bill into Parliament, which enables doctors and health professionals to object to performing or assisting in an abortion, except in the case of an emergency where it is necessary to save the woman’s life, or prevent serious physical injury.

“What is essential is that doctors’ personal values don’t compromise patients’ access to medical care, and the health of women who seek or urgently require a termination,” Professor Willmott said.

“The safety and wellbeing of women in those situations should be the paramount concern and priority.”

Professor Savulescu is an Adjunct Professor at ACHLR, QUT, the Uehiro chair in Practical Ethics, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford, and director of the Institute for Science and Ethics, Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford. He is also the director of the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, one of three strategic centres in biomedical ethics in the United Kingdom.

The free public lecture will be held at QUT Gardens Point campus, Z Block in the Gibson Room (Level 10) on Tuesday August 30 2016, from 5.30-6.30pm.

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