The Supreme Court of Norway set a new precedent on Thursday on freedom of conscience and conscientious objection in the medical profession. The Court found that Dr. Katarzyna Jachimowicz acted within her rights when she refused to follow through with a medical procedure that she found her self at moral odds with – abortion.
Today’s Supreme Court decision marks an important step in the right direction, not only for doctors, but for people of faith in all professions. The ruling protects one of the most fundamental rights, the right to act in accordance with one’s deeply held beliefs. Dr. Jachimowicz takes her vocation as a medical professional seriously. She vowed to protect life, and objected to having any part in taking it. The Court established today that she had every right to do so,” said Håkon Bleken, who represented Dr. Jachimowicz before the Court.
“Nobody should be forced to choose between following their conscience or pursuing their profession. We welcome this ruling from the Norwegian Supreme Court. It will set new standards for the protection of fundamental conscience rights in Norway and beyond. The Court’s findings recognize the fundamental right to conscientious objection for medical staff, as protected by international law,” said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International, a human rights organization that supported the case.
Dr. Jachimowicz lost her employment with a General Practitioner Clinic in the municipality of Sauherad in 2015 when she refused to insert intrauterine devices (IUDs), which can act as abortifacients. She stressed that administering a procedure that could result in abortion contradicted her Christian faith.
International law protects the right of medical staff to conscientious objection. Conscientious objection in health care is the refusal to perform a legal role or responsibility because of moral or other personal beliefs. Most states in the United States have “conscience clauses” that describe the right of physicians and other health care providers to refuse to provide services such as abortions.
Although Dr. Jachimowicz should have been protected by the law, her superiors fired her because she failed to comply with an instruction that she considered to be morally wrong.
A lower court found that she had acted within her right to practice medicine in accordance with her conscience, but healthcare authorities appealed the decision. The case was then moved to the Supreme Court of Norway and heard at the end of August 2018.
“This win comes at a time when medical professionals across Europe are feeling increasingly threatened in their positions by a pressure to do things they believe to be morally wrong and unethical. As such, it provides a valuable legal precedent in protecting this inherent freedom across the continent. This judgment sends a clear message to the Norwegian authorities that conscience is a fundamental right under the European Convention on Human Rights which must be protected,” said Clarke.
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