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LAW LETS DOCTORS OPT OUT OF ABORTIONS, OTHER PROCEDURES ON RELIGIOUS GROUNDS

Ministry to repeal objections of conscience

A HEALTH Ministry proposal could take away the right of doctors and other health workers to opt out of providing abortions, artificial insemination and other procedures that go against their religious beliefs.
The change would repeal the provision on objections of conscience from the Health Act.
Ministry spokesperson Silvia Balázsiková said the ministry is still evaluating comments on the proposal, and the plan is not final.

A HEALTH Ministry proposal could take away the right of doctors and other health workers to opt out of providing abortions, artificial insemination and other procedures that go against their religious beliefs.

The change would repeal the provision on objections of conscience from the Health Act.

Ministry spokesperson Silvia Balázsiková said the ministry is still evaluating comments on the proposal, and the plan is not final.

"Many notices and comments are in favour of the preservation of the original wording, and on the other hand, many praise the idea of omitting the wording," she said.

The ministry did not explain why it is considering the change.

Objections of conscience were included in the Health Act in 2004 following the efforts of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH). The law protects doctors and medical employees who do not wish to perform procedures such as abortions.

"This is typical for this government. It goes back and does not respect any values," said KDH vice-chair Mária Sabolová.

She thinks doctors who have an objection of conscience will not do such procedures in the future regardless of the law, she said.

"However, we must prepare the legislation so that these people have the support of the law," she said.

The vice-chair of the ruling coalition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) party, Milan Urbáni, said the law in its current form does not bother anyone.

"The health care system has thousands of other problems that should be solved by the ministry," he said.

Tomáš Szalay from the Health Policy Institute think-tank said the ministry's proposal is ridiculous. He thinks Health Minister Ivan Valentovič is unnecessarily provoking the part of the population that holds the right to objections of conscience as a value.

"If we admit that one part of population may also have different values, and if it does not interfere with our freedoms too much, I do not see any reason why not to allow them to do so," he said.

Szalay said doctors who do not want to make these operations, will not make them.

"Life will find its ways, it just that the law will not reflect it, and I find it ridiculous," he said.

The head of the gynaecological clinic of Petržalka's Cyril and Methodius Hospital, Miroslav Borovský, agreed that the law wouldn't change anything for doctors.

"It is just forbidden to announce an objection of conscience for a whole hospital, which I think is right," he said.

There have been cases where the head of a department banned abortions for the whole department because of his or her faith. Borovský thinks doctors can come to an agreement with their department heads even if the law changes.

He does not fear that they will be forced to do the abortions, he said.

"What department head would force anyone to do that?" he asked.


Doctors might have other protection


Vojtech Koleják, director of the hospital in Trstená, is afraid of the change. Employees there have not performed abortions for several years.

"If this bill is passed, I would feel very sorry," he said. "If we were able to apply the objection of conscience during socialism, then I see no reason why we would not be able to apply it now."

The ministry says hospitals can currently ask their administrators to terminate their license for the disputed procedures, and the law would change that. Koleják said that if the bill is passed, the hospital would ask the regional government to terminate their license.

Ján Čarnogurský, a lawyer and former KDH chair, thinks that if the law is repealed, it will be followed by doctors getting fired, and those cases will end up in the courts.

"This is imminent even now, when objection of conscience is included in the law. And when it is no longer included in it, the danger will grow even more," Čarnogurský said.

He thinks the anti-discrimination law favours medical employees who are sacked over their objection of conscience, as it forbids discrimination based on religious faith.

An example may be the Prešov gynaecologist who was sacked by the J. A. Reiman Hospital in 2005 when he refused to give his patient medicine aimed at inducing an abortion.

The doctor claimed that since he joined the hospital, he had an agreement with the head of the gynaecological department that he would not take part in procedures connected with abortions because of his objections of conscience. After some time, his position started to annoy his colleagues, and after the case with patient's abortion, he was dismissed.

Čarnogurský argued the doctor's case and won two years ago. The court in Prešov decided the firing was not valid. The hospital had to pay the doctor's lost wages, about Sk80,000 (€2,400).

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