Opinions on conscientious objection to induced abortion among Finnish medical and nursing students and professionals

Petteri Nieminen, Saara Lappalainen, Pauliina Ristimäki, Markku Myllykangas, Anne-Mari Mustonen

BMC Medical Ethics

Abstract: Conscientious objection (CO) to participating in induced abortion is not present in the Finnish health care system or legislation unlike in many other European countries.

Methods: We conducted a questionnaire survey with the 1st- and the last-year medical and nursing students and professionals (548 respondents; response rate 66-100%) including several aspects of the abortion process and their relation to CO in 2013.

Results: The male medical respondents chose later time points of pregnancy than the nursing respondents when considering when the embryo/fetus ‘becomes a person’. Of all respondents, 3.5-14.1% expressed a personal wish to CO.

The medical professionals supported the right to CO more often (34.2%) than the nursing professionals (21.4%), while ≥62.4% could work with someone expressing CO. Yet ≥57.9% of the respondents anticipated social problems at work communities caused by CO.

Most respondents considered self-reported religious/ethical conviction to be adequate for CO but, at the same time, 30.1-50.7% considered that no conviction would be sufficient. The respondents most commonly included the medical doctor conducting surgical or medical abortion to be eligible to CO.

The nursing respondents considered that vacuum suction would be a better justification for CO than medical abortion. The indications most commonly included to potential CO were second-trimester abortions and social reasons.

Among the medical respondents, the men were more willing to grant CO also in case of a life-threatening emergency of the pregnant woman.

Conclusions: While the respondents mostly seemed to consider the continuation of adequate services important if CO is introduced, the viewpoint was often focused on the staff and surgical abortion procedure instead of the patients. The issue proved to be complex, which should be taken into consideration for legislation.


Nieminen P, Lappalainen S, Ristimäki P, Myllykangas M, Mustonen A-M. Opinions on conscientious objection to induced abortion among Finnish medical and nursing students and professionals. BMC Medical Ethics 2015, 16:17  doi:10.1186/s12910-015-0012-1

Medical students’ attitudes towards conscientious objection: a survey

Sven Jakob Nordstrand, Magnus Andreas Nordstrand, Per Nortvedt, Morten Magelssen

Journal of Medical Ethics

Objective: To examine medical students’ views on conscientious objection and controversial medical procedures.

Methods: Questionnaire study among Norwegian 5th and 6th year medical students.

Results: Five hundred and thirty-one of 893 students (59%) responded. Respondents object to a range of procedures not limited to abortion (up to 19%)—notably euthanasia (62%), ritual circumcision for boys (52%), assisted reproduction for same-sex couples (9.7%) and ultrasound in the setting of prenatal diagnosis (5.0%). A small minority (4.9%) would object to referrals for abortion. In the case of abortion, up to 55% would tolerate conscientious refusals, whereas 42% would not. Higher proportions would tolerate refusals for euthanasia (89%) or ritual circumcision for boys (72%).

Discussion: A majority of Norwegian medical students would object to participation in euthanasia or ritual circumcision for boys. However, in most settings, many medical students think doctors should not be able to refuse participation on grounds of conscience. A minority would accept conscientious refusals for procedures they themselves do not object to personally. Most students would not accept conscientious refusals for referrals.

Conclusions: Conscientious objection remains a live issue in the context of several medical procedures not limited to abortion. Although most would want a right to object to participation in euthanasia, tolerance towards conscientious objectors in general was moderate or low.


Nordstrand SJ, Nordstrand MA, Nortvedt P, Magelssen M. Medical students’ attitudes towards conscientious objection: a survey. J Med Ethics 2014;40:609-612 doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101482

Controversy over doctors’ right to say “no”: The most controversial issues relate to abortion referrals or prescribing birth control

Wendy Glauser

Canadian Medical Association Journal

Religious groups, doctor’s organizations, ethicists and abortion rights advocates are raising concerns around the review of an Ontario policy that outlines, among other things, physicians’ right to object to patients’ requests for services on moral grounds.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s Physicians and Ontario Human Rights Code is up for its five-year review, with both public and expert opinion being sought. . .


Glauser W. Controversy over doctors’ right to say “no”: The most controversial issues relate to abortion referrals or prescribing birth control. CMAJ September 16, 2014 186:E483-E484; published ahead of print August 18, 2014

Conscientious objection in Italy

Francesca Minerva

Journal of Medical Ethics

Abstract

The law regulating abortion in Italy gives healthcare practitioners the option to make a conscientious objection to activities that are specific and necessary to an abortive intervention. Conscientious objectors among Italian gynaecologists amount to about 70%. This means that only a few doctors are available to perform abortions, and therefore access to abortion is subject to constraints. In 2012 the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF EN) lodged a complaint against Italy to the European Committee of Social Rights, claiming that the inadequate protection of the right to access abortion implies a violation of the right to health. In this paper I will discuss the Italian situation with respect to conscientious objection to abortion and I will suggest possible solutions to the problem.


Minerva F. Conscientious objection in Italy. J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101656

Conscientious objection to provision of legal abortion care

Brooke R. Johnson Jr., Eszter Kismödi, Monica V. Dragomana, Marleen Temmermana

International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics

Abstract

Despite advances in scientific evidence, technologies, and human rights rationale for providing safe abortion,a broad range of cultural, regulatory, and health system barriers that deter access to abortion continues to exist in many countries. When conscientious objection to provision of abortion becomes one of these barriers, it can create risks to women’s health and the enjoyment of their human rights. To eliminate this barrier, states should implement regulations for healthcare providers on how to invoke conscientious objection without jeopardizing women’s access to safe, legal abortion services, especially with regard to timely referral for care and in emergency cases when referral is not possible. In addition, states should take all necessary measures to ensure that all women and adolescents have the means to prevent unintended pregnancies and to obtain safe abortion.


Johnson BR, Kismödi E, Dragomana MV, Temmermana M. Conscientious objection to provision of legal abortion care. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2013 Dec;123 Suppl 3:S60-2. doi: 10.1016/S0020-7292(13)60004-1.

Conscientious objection and induced abortion in Europe

Anna Heino, Mika Gissler, Dan Apter, Christian Fiala

The European Journal of Contraception & Reproductive Health Care

Abstract:

The issue of conscientious objection (CO) arises in healthcare when doctors and nurses refuse to have any involvement in the provision of treatment of certain patients due to their religious or moral beliefs. Most commonly CO is invoked when it comes to induced abortion. Of the EU member states where induced abortion is legal, invoking CO is granted by law in 21 countries. The same applies to the non-EU countries Norway and Switzerland. CO is not legally granted in the EU member states Sweden, Finland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. The Icelandic legislation provides no right to CO either. European examples prove that the recommendation that CO should not prevent women from accessing services fails in a number of cases. CO puts women in an unequal position depending on their place of residence, socio-economic status and income. CO should not be presented as a question that relates only to health professionals and their rights. CO mainly concerns women as it has very real consequences for their reproductive health and rights. European countries should assess the laws governing CO and its effects on women ’ s rights. CO should not be used as a subtle method for limiting the legal right to healthcare. [Full Text]

Heino A, Gissler M, Apter D, Fiala C. Conscientious objection and induced abortion in Europe. European J Contraception and Reproductive Health Care, 2013; 18: 231–233

Termination of pregnancy as emergency obstetric care: the interpretation of Catholic health policy and the consequences for pregnant women

An analysis of the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland and similar cases

Marge Berer

Reproductive Health Matters

Abstract:

Issues arising from the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland in October 2012 include the question of whether it is unethical to refuse to terminate a non-viable pregnancy when the woman’s life may be at risk. In Catholic maternity services, this decision intersects with health professionals’ interpretation of Catholic health policy on treatment of miscarriage as well as the law on abortion. This paper explores how these issues came together around Savita’s death and the consequences for pregnant women and maternity services worldwide. It discusses cases not only in Ireland but also the Americas. Many of the events presented are recent, and most of the sources are media and individual reports. However, there is a very worrying common thread across countries and continents. If further research unearths more cases like Savita’s, any Catholic health professionals and/or hospitals refusing to terminate a pregnancy as emergency obstetric care should be stripped of their right to provide maternity services. In some countries these are the main or only existing maternity services. Even so, governments should refuse to fund these services, and either replace them with non-religious services or require that non-religious staff are available at all times specifically to take charge of such cases to prevent unnecessary deaths. At issue is whether a woman’s life comes first or not at all.


Berer M. Termination of pregnancy as emergency obstetric care: the interpretation of Catholic health policy and the consequences for pregnant women: An analysis of the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland and similar cases. Reproductive Health Matters 2013;21(41):9–17

The spread of conscience clause legislation

Claire Marshall

Human Rights

Abstract:

The article presents information on a proliferation in conscience clause legislation to federal and state laws in the U.S. The move is stated to be pitting individual religious autonomy against the public interest, mainly in the areas of education and health care.


Marshall C. The spread of conscience clause legislation. Human Rights [Internet]. 2013 Jan; 39(2), 15-16.

Professional QOL of Japanese nurses/midwives providing abortion/childbirth care

M. Mizuno, E. Kinefuchi, R. Kimura

Nursing Ethics

This study explored the relationship between professional quality of life and emotion work and the major stress factors related to abortion care in Japanese obstetric and gynecological nurses and midwives. . . . Multiple regression analysis revealed that of all the evaluated variables, the Japanese version of the Frankfurt Emotional Work Scale score for negative emotions display was the most significant positive predictor of compassion fatigue and burnout. The stress factors “thinking that the aborted fetus deserved to live” and “difficulty in controlling emotions during abortion care” were associated with compassion fatigue. These findings indicate that providing abortion services is a highly distressing experience for nurses and midwives.


Mizuno M, Kinefuchi E, Kimura R. Professional QOL of Japanese nurses/midwives providing abortion/childbirth care. Nurs Ethics January 17, 2013 0969733012463723

Recognizing conscience in abortion provision

Lisa Harris

NEJM

The exercise of conscience in health care is generally considered synonymous with refusal to participate in contested medical services, especially abortion. This depiction neglects the fact that the provision of abortion care is also conscience-based. The persistent failure to recognize abortion provision as “conscientious” has resulted in laws that do not protect caregivers who are compelled by conscience to provide abortion services, contributes to the ongoing stigmatization of abortion providers, and leaves theoretical and practical blind spots in bioethics with respect to positive claims of conscience — that is, conscience-based claims for offering care, rather than for refusing to provide it.


Harris L. Recognizing conscience in abortion provision. N Engl J Med 2012; 367:981-983