On March 23rd 2018, the House of Lords will enter the Committee Stage of debate on the Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill, a Private Members’ Bill sponsored by Baroness O’Loan. It will be a time for line-by-line examination, with many amendments expected to be tabled both by supporters and opponents. As a qualified supporter of the Bill the time is ripe, in my view, to rebut some of the principal objections raised against it by Peers at the second reading, which took place on 26 January.
For those unfamiliar with the Bill, its purpose is to extend conscientious objection protection to health care workers in three areas: abortion; euthanasia by withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment; and artificial reproduction under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. The most striking aspect of the Bill is its extension of protection beyond actual, ‘hands-on’ participation in activities to which a person conscientiously objects – for which some shelter exists already, as in the case of abortion – to activities such as ‘preparation’, ‘support’, ‘supervision’, and ‘delegation’. It was the lack of conscience protection under law in respect of these sorts of activities that led to the failure of the Glasgow midwives in the Supreme Court abortion case of Greater Glasgow Health Board vs. Doogan and Another.