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Tensions Between Ethics and the Law: Examination of a Legal Case by Two Midwives Invoking a Conscientious Objection to Abortion in Scotland

Fleming, V, Frith, L and Ramsayer, B (2019) Tensions Between Ethics and the Law: Examination of a Legal Case by Two Midwives Invoking a Conscientious Objection to Abortion in Scotland. HEC Forum. ISSN 0956-2737

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This paper examines a legal case arising from a workplace grievance that progressed to being heard at the UK’s Supreme Court. The case of Doogan and Wood versus Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board concerned two senior midwives in Scotland, both practicing Roman Catholics, who exercised their perceived rights in accordance with section 4(1) of the Abortion Act not to participate in the treatment of women undergoing abortions. The key question raised by this case was: “Is Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board entitled to require the midwives to delegate, supervise and support staff in the treatment of patients undergoing termination of pregnancy?” The ethical issues concerning conscientious objection to abortion have been much debated although the academic literature is mainly concerned with the position of medical practitioners rather than what the World Health Organization terms “mid-level professionals” such as midwives. This paper examines the arguments put forward by the midwives to justify their refusal to carry out tasks they felt contravened their legal right to make a conscientious objection. We then consider professional codes, UK legislation and church legislation. While the former are given strong weighting the latter was been ignored in this case, although cases in other European countries have been prevented from escalating to such a high level by the intervention of prominent church figures. The paper concludes by stating that the question put to the courts remains as yet unanswered but offers some recommendations for future policy making and research.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: K Law > KD England and Wales > KDC Scotland
R Medicine > RG Gynecology and obstetrics
R Medicine > RT Nursing
Divisions: Nursing & Allied Health
Publisher: Springer Verlag
Date Deposited: 09 Jul 2019 09:43
Last Modified: 04 Sep 2021 09:11
DOI or ID number: 10.1007/s10730-019-09378-4
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/11010
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