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The House of Lords passes conscience bill through second reading

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Today, the House of Lords took an important step in passing a crucial bill protecting medical practitioners’ conscience to committee stage by approving its second reading. Baroness O’Loan’s Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill seeks clear legislation that will protect medical practitionersfreedom of conscience by allowing conscientious objection to conducting or aiding in beginning and end of life procedures.

 

The Bill in its detail

Baroness O’Loan’s bill makes provisions that extend to medical practitioners whose names appear in the registers of the:

·         General Medical Council

·         the Nursing and Midwifery Council

·         the Health and Care Professions Council OR

·         the General Pharmaceutical Council

AND who conscientiously object to participating in :

·         the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment

·         any activity under the provisions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990

·         any activity related to the Abortion Act 1967

Baroness O’Loan’s bill, which if it passes the entire Parliamentary process will extend to England and Wales, helpfully identifies ‘any activity’ as inclusive of supervision, delegation, planning, or supporting of staff involved in the activity to which there is a conscientious objection.

Under Baroness O’Loan’s bill, an employer must not discriminate against or victimise an employee with a conscientious objection as outlined above in any way that terminates or limits the employees job or access to furthering their employment opportunities and growth. The Bill provides protection against legal proceedings and other detrimental acts that could be aimed at a conscientious objector.

For more detail on the bill, please refer to this helpful Parliamentary Briefing.

Why this bill is needed

Only two statutory provisions exist in Parliamentary legislation that protect conscientious objection for medical practitioners. These are limited to section 4 of the Abortion Act 1967 and Section 38 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. No statutory provision currently exists for medical practitioners who conscientiously object to withdrawing life-sustaining treatment.

What’s more, the provisions that have been made as in the case of the Abortion Act 1967 have proven insufficient, particularly in a Supreme Court ruling against two Scottish midwives who had conscientious objections to indirect participation in abortion, through delegating tasks and supervising in the procedure. The 2014 ruling means that many could be forced to act against their consciences and some could lose their jobs simply for acting in accordance with their freely held conscientious beliefs. Other cases of discrimination have been clearly recorded as well.

Where this bill could be expanded

Baroness O’Loan’s bill and its success at its second reading in the House of Lords should be celebrated as a step towards a possible triumph for Christian medical practitioners and others with conscientious objections. Current legislation does not provide enough conscience protections for those who do not desire to participate in the beginning and end of life procedures outlined above.

Conscientious objection to participating in certain procedures, however, is not limited to matters related to the beginning and end of life. In a culture where catering to gender confusion is more and more common, medical practitioners will increasingly be asked to participate in procedures that may go against conscience.

While Baroness O’Loan’s bill is extremely important, and its success is desirable, legislation should be considered that protects those who have conscientious objection to any participation in ‘sex-change’ procedures or in the provision of its related drugs (eg. puberty blockers or hormone boosters).

What is next for Baroness O’Loan’s bill?

The bill, having received its second reading in the House of Lords will now proceed to Committee Stage before its report stage and third reading, which, if passed will then be presented to the House of Commons.

How you can show support

The Free Conscience Campaign has been launched to help raise awareness about Baroness O’Loan’s bill and to hopefully have a positive impact in securing the bill’s safe passage through the Parliamentary process. Here is how you can help this endeavour:

Equip yourself with knowledge of Baroness O’Loan’s bill and why it is important for Christians and others to support. The Free Conscience Campaign provides vital resources that help explain the background to the bill further and that point to other avenues wherein the bill can be supported by the general public.

Educate others about Baroness O’Loan’s bill by sharing this article and The Free Conscience Campaign’s website in your family, at your church, by email, and through social media. As Christians living in a democracy we have a say and should use our rights for the good of society and God’s glory!

Engage your local MP via The Free Conscience Campaign’s email feature and urge them to express support for the bill as it progresses through the House of Lords and then to vote in its favour when it reaches the House of Commons.

Pray for the success of the bill and that other conscience provisions would be made to protect Christians and others working in environments where they could be forced to act against conscience or lose livelihood. 

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