Reader feedback: Letter to the editor

"Conscience concordat" discriminatory

The experts referred to in the article "Experts: Vatican Treaty a threat" (News Briefs, January 9-15, 2006), including the Slovak representative Martin Butzinger and his colleagues, discuss two areas where the "conscience concordat" clashes with human rights.

First, they assert that the sometimes competing claims of different human rights have to be balanced against each other. Thus, the right of a Catholic doctor not to have to perform an abortion must be balanced against the right of a woman to undergo a legally permitted procedure.

However, an article in a Catholic newspaper asserted that a doctor should not have any obligation to refer a woman to a colleague who would be willing to treat her as that is "an act which itself conflicts [with] conscientious objection".

Not much room for compromise there. The conscience of the doctor (or the pharmacist) is treated by the Church as absolute. Apparently no other rights matter.

Second, the conscience concordat conflicts with the human right not to be discriminated against. "Conscience" is defined by the concordat as only being scruples which accord with "the teaching of faith and morals of the Catholic Church".

Yet the conscience of even a good Catholic may at times conflict with some of the teachings of his church.

This concordat would mean that those who agreed with the official doctrine of the Church could act without any legal liability for damage they caused to the public, a privilege not granted to others. Furthermore, the experts argue, this might constitute discrimination against women, since only their healthcare is facing restrictions.

Muriel Fraser,
London, UK

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