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Norwegian top court hears case on conscience rights for medical staff

Summary

  • After victory in the lower court, Dr. Jachimowicz’s case now before Supreme Court of Norway
  • ADF International supports family doctor’s right to freedom of conscience

OSLO (31 August 2018) – Should medical workers be forced to choose between their profession and their faith? From 28 to 30 August 2018, the Supreme Court of Norway heard the case of Dr. Katarzyna Jachimowicz. A lower court found that she has the right to practice medicine in accordance with her conscience but healthcare authorities appealed that decision.

In 2015, Dr. Jachimowicz lost her employment with a Family Clinic in the municipality of Sauherad. She had refused to insert intrauterine devices (IUDs), which can act as abortifacients. Administering a procedure that could result in abortion contradicted her Christian faith. International law protects the right of medical staff to conscientious objection. Nevertheless, her superiors fired Dr. Jachimowicz because she failed to comply with an instruction that she considered to be morally wrong.

Norway is a member state of the Council of Europe and has an obligation to protect freedom of conscience.

“Nobody should be forced to choose between following their conscience or pursuing their profession. The Appeal Court’s ruling in 2017 upheld the right to conscientious objection for medical staff, as protected by international law. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has affirmed that ‘no person, hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion.’ Norway is a member state of the Council of Europe and has an obligation to protect freedom of conscience. We are confident that the Supreme Court will affirm this fundamental right,” said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International.

Respected doctor dismissed for practising in line with her conscience

Dr. Jachimowicz, who is originally from Poland, has 23 years of experience as a doctor. Together with her husband, she came to Norway in 2010. Before starting her work at the Family Clinic, she clearly stated her objection to the use of the intrauterine coil, which did not present a problem to her employer at that time. Intrauterine devices can prevent the implantation of the fertilized embryo into the womb and, as a result, can cause the death of an unborn child.

Although Norwegian law allows doctors to conscientiously object to abortion, the country introduced a new rule in January 2015 prohibiting doctors from refusing to provide any method of ‘birth control’. Doctors are therefore able to object to abortion, whilst being coerced to perform other procedures which can have the same result.

“Dr. Jachimowicz proved to be a reliable, professional practitioner for the many patients under her care. The notion that her employer could not accommodate her deeply held convictions seems absurd, especially since there is a lack of medical doctors in Norway. The previous judgment sent a clear message to the Norwegian authorities that conscience is a fundamental right that goes to the very heart of what it means to be human,” said Clarke.

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