Poland: additional information on Constitutional Court’s ground-breaking decision on conscientious objection

Ordo Iuris Institute has some important additional information on last weeks’s decision of the Polish Constitutional Court in which the right to conscientious objection for medical staff was confirmed and widened.

Here are some extracts:

The Constitutional Tribunal stated that under Art. 53 section 1 of the Polish Constitution and relevant international laws, conscientious objection and the freedom of conscience in general is intrinsic to human dignity, fundamental and prior to other constitutional freedoms and rights. In this context, no patient’s rights, other than those connected with protection of his life or protection from serious bodily injury or severe health disorder, could be granted primacy over right of conscientious objection.

Art. 39 of the challenged Act does not constitute a privilege of the doctor, because the freedom of conscience is a primary value, confirmed by constitutional and international law. The freedom of conscience – including the conscientious objection – must be respected regardless of the existence of its statutory confirmation.

The Tribunal stated that the phrase „other urgent situations” is too ambiguous and does indicate explicitly neither constitutional values nor rights, protection of which might be considered as a legitimate ground for the restrictions of the freedom of conscience. With regard to the hierarchy of constitutional values, and principles governing statutory limitations of constitutional freedoms and rights (principles of necessity, utility, proportionality, as well as general prohibition of introducing limitations violating the essence of freedom or right), the Tribunal expressed the opinion that the only patient’s rights that could be granted priority over the freedom of conscience are those that serve directly protection of life or protection from serious bodily injury or severe health disorder.

The Tribunal dismissed also the statutory provision imposing on a doctor objecting to perform a medical service on conscientious basis the obligation to refer a patient to another physician or medical institution believed not to object to perform the service in question. The Tribunal held such a requirement to be unconstitutional. The constitutional guarantee of this freedom protects an individual not only from obligations to act against one’s conscience, but also from such an action, which would lead indirectly to an ethically unacceptable result, especially from an obligation to cooperate in order to achieve objected purposes.