This House of Lords Library Briefing has been prepared in advance of the second reading in the House of Lords of the Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill [HL] on 26 January 2018.
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The Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill seeks to clarify the extent to which a medical practitioner with a conscientious objection may refrain from participating in certain medical activities, namely withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment and activities under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 and the Abortion Act 1967. Statutory exemptions for conscientious objection already exist for two of the medical activities the Bill aims to cover. The Abortion Act 1967 provides a statutory exemption for individuals who have a conscientious objection participate in abortion. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 already provides an exemption for practitioners wishing to rely on their conscientious objection. Doctors, Nurses and Pharmacists are bound to practice in accordance with standards set by their respective statutory regulatory bodies, namely the General Medical Council for doctors, the Nursing and Midwifery Council for nurses, and the General Pharmaceutical Council for pharmacy professionals. Each body has provided guidance for practitioners for when faced with a situation where they may not wish to participate due to their conscientious objection.
This Briefing provides background information on the Bill and explores the existing law and guidance on conscientious objection in relation to medical activities.