Win for conscientious objection in Norway

Norway’s Supreme Court has ruled in favour of conscientious objection and freedom of conscience for doctors. The Court found that Dr Katarzyna Jachimowicz acted within her rights when refusing to IUDs because of moral objections. The Court told government health authorities to respect the right to conscientious objection for medical professionals in their employment.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision marks an important step in the right direction, not only for doctors, but for people of faith in all professions. The ruling protects one of the most fundamental rights, the right to act in accordance with one’s deeply held beliefs. Dr. Jachimowicz takes her vocation as a medical professional seriously. She vowed to protect life, and objected to having any part in taking it. The Court established today that she had every right to do so,” said Dr Jachimowicz’s lawyer, Håkon Bleken.

“Nobody should be forced to choose between following their conscience or pursuing their profession. We welcome this ruling from the Norwegian Supreme Court. It will set new standards for the protection of fundamental conscience rights in Norway and beyond,” said Robert Clarke, of ADF International, a US-based group that supported the case.

In 2015, Dr Jachimowicz was sacked as a doctor working for municipality of Sauherad, although when she was hired in 2011, the municipality knew of her objections. A lower court supported her but healthcare authorities appealed. The case was then heard at the Supreme Court of Norway at the end of August 2018.

In its judgement the Court (PDF) cited a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights:

“... as enshrined in Article 9, freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a 'democratic society' within the meaning of the Convention. In its religious dimension it is one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life, but it is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned. The pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has been dearly won over the centuries, depends on it.”

“This judgment sends a clear message to the Norwegian authorities that conscience is a fundamental right under the European Convention on Human Rights which must be protected,” said Clarke.

The municipality of Sauderad was disappointed with the outcome of the case. “I am very surprised and disappointed with the outcome of this case, and the verdict that allows the layman to reserve reserves for conscience reasons in his municipal practice, said its mayor, Mette Haugholt.

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