This article appeared in the November 2008 edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly

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Legal Centre Defends Doctor's Right to a Conscience

The Thomas More Legal Centre has successfully represented a Roman Catholic trainee doctor, who was threatened with dismissal and was reported to the General Medical Council (GMC) because he refused to participate in abortion advice or the prescribing of the "morning after pill". The doctor does not want to be named, or his clinic identified, but he is happy for the Thomas More Legal Centre to publicise its involvement in assisting him.

The doctor is training as a GP and was told that part of his work would involve him advising patients on abortions, referring them for abortions and prescribing contraceptives. He explained his moral objections to these procedures; he accepted that he could not impose his moral views on his patients and must always advise them of their right to see another doctor but he would not refer them for an abortion or prescribe contraceptives and he would explain the alternatives. He was told that unless he changed his views he would be marked down as failed in his training to be a GP and he could also be reported to the GMC and potentially struck off the medical register. He was being pressurised to leave general practice altogether when he contacted the Thomas More Legal Centre.

Neil Addison the Director of the Thomas More Legal Centre says "We advised the doctor that his actions were legal and he was protected by the Human Rights Act and the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. We drafted letters to his employers setting out his legal rights and the fact that continuing the attempt to pressurise him to compromise his ethical principles would constitute unlawful harassment and any attempt to fail him in his training would constitute unlawful victimisation.

We continued to assist and advise the doctor when his clinic referred him to the GMC and were delighted when the GMC eventually confirmed our opinion that the doctor was acting in accordance with medical professional rules. The pressures on this doctor now appear to have come to an end but we will continue to monitor the situation; we are glad that we were able to resolve the matter without having to sue the Clinic but we would have been prepared to do so if it had been necessary"

The doctor himself has said to Neil Addison "If it had not been for your support they would have sacked me or made me resign, I felt I was on my own and could do nothing"

Neil Addison adds:

"Though this case has been resolved the Thomas More Legal Centre is concerned at its implications. Trainees are particularly vulnerable to pressure from their superiors and it takes a great deal of moral courage for a trainee to stand up for his ethical principles when he is being threatened with reference to
the GMC and told that he will not be allowed to pass his professional tests. We would want to know if there are other doctors or nurses in this position and we will support them through legal action if that is necessary"

We are pleased to include a feature in this Quarterly on the law of conscientious objection to abortion by Mr Neil Addison