VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- No physician should be forced to choose
between violating his or her conscience and facing professional sanctions when
defending human life, said the president of the World Federation of Catholic
Dr. John Lee, the federation president, wrote a letter in
early February to the World Medical Association protesting proposed changes in
the WMA's ethical policy statements on abortion and on euthanasia. The changes apparently
will be discussed at the WMA council meeting in Latvia in April.
The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, reported on Lee's letter
on its front page Feb. 16 under the headline, "Conscientious objection
The two proposals, Lee said, would "facilitate
worldwide abortion and euthanasia by curtailing doctors' conscientious
objection" by using "deceptive language, pressure on doctors by
national regulatory bodies and legal force to weaken national laws protecting
The WMA's Declaration of Oslo on Therapeutic Abortion, most
recently updated in 2006, said the association "requires the physician to
maintain respect for human life," but "where the law allows
therapeutic abortion to be performed, the procedure should be performed by a
physician competent to do so in premises approved by the appropriate authority."
"If the physician's convictions do not allow him or her
to advise or perform an abortion, he or she may withdraw while ensuring the
continuity of medical care by a qualified colleague," the 2006 declaration
Apparently, Lee said, the proposed revision removes any
distinction between "a therapeutic abortion" and "an elective
abortion," and affirms that "the physician who objects must
nevertheless provide 'safe abortion' in some circumstances." In addition,
he said, the proposal apparently removes the 2006 declaration's reference to
the "unborn child" and refers instead to the "fetus."
On the issue of euthanasia, Lee said he has been told
that Canada and the Netherlands have proposed changes that would state the
"WMA does not condemn physicians who follow their own conscience in
deciding whether or not to participate in these activities" in
jurisdictions where euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are legal.
"By saying that the WMA does not condemn physicians who
perform euthanasia where it is legal, the WMA is saying that euthanasia can be
ethical if it is legal," Lee wrote.
In addition, he said, "based on the Canadian
experience, acceptance of the ethical neutrality of medically-assisted death
has resulted in almost immediate challenges for physicians who are unable to
refer (patients to other doctors) because of moral, religious or ethical
concerns. It is a serious problem, with physicians put in the impossible
position of having to choose between their conscience and being allowed to
continue to care for their patients."
"Doctors who exercise their right of conscientious
objection to abortion and euthanasia will find themselves victims of coercion
by their professional societies and the state," Lee wrote. "This
oppression of the silent majority by the vocal minority cannot end well."