A new UK Parliamentary Inquiry into conscientious objection was launched this month, focusing specifically on the participation of healthcare professionals in abortion.
The Parliamentary Inquiry into Freedom of Conscience in Abortion Provision, commissioned by Tory MP and outspoken abortion opponent Fiona Bruce, will consider the scope and import of section 4 of the UK Abortion Act (1967). The so-called “conscience clause” of the act requires that “no person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection”.
A call for ‘written evidence’ has been published on the Inquiry’s website, with submissions by July 16. The Inquiry committee is particularly interested in submissions regarding “good and bad practice in the use of the Conscience Clause”.
Christian Medical Fellowship Chief Executive Peter Saunders welcomed the announcement of the Inquiry and encouraged healthcare professionals to submit evidence:
This new consultation is timely. It provides a great opportunity for anyone with strong feelings on this issue, and especially those with experience of how the conscience clause works in practice, to provide input which may help to shape future law and regulations. It’s an opportunity well worth taking – especially for doctors and nurses.
“What does Brexit mean for bioethics?” is our lead story today. Given that the Leavers were not expected to win and that the pundits have widely different views of the future of the politics and economies of the UK and the EU, it is unwise to be dogmatic on the issue.
However, the question highlights the importance of Britain in the world of bioethics. Britain is the home of utilitarianism, which is the dominant philosophy in bioethical discourse at the moment. The medical and scientific establishment is dominated by a utilitarian mindset which has set the agenda for debates on embryo research, stem cell research and assisted dying around the world. As one cynical writer commented, “when it comes to bioethics, Europe might be better off without Britain”.
There is something in this. Although I am handicapped by a big language barrier, my impression is that from Norway to Italy there is much more depth and diversity in bioethical discourse across the Channel. The Greens and the Christian Churches are much more influential, to say nothing of Continental philosophy, which despises utilitarianism as vacuous and naïve. If England (the pundits all agree that Scotland will secede) loses its biomedical industry to the EU, perhaps utilitarian bioethics will lose some of its funding and its influence. That would be no bad thing, I think.
Sorry, guys, but BioEdge will be taking a holiday during July. Our next issue will be in the first week of August.
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British Parliamentary Inquiry Into Freedom of Conscience on Abortion