February 24, 2024

Nurses have a human right to be good Catholics

a young Cambridge PhD candidate has reiterated his challenge the British medical establishment.

Florence Nightingale

In a provocative guest post on the Journal of Medical Ethics blog, a young Cambridge PhD candidate has reiterated his challenge the British medical establishment to change their restrictive stance on conscientious objection.

John Adenitire – who is currently completing a doctorate in law at the University of Cambridge – recently published a lengthy article in the JME criticizing the British Medical Association’s strict limits on conscientious objection. We reported on that recently.

Adenitire this week presented his argument more forcefully, writing that “nurses have a human right to be good Catholics”.

“I don’t think nurses should refuse to provide legal abortions because the Catholic Church tells them not to.  I am not a Catholic and I don’t think anyone should be a Catholic.  But what I think people should or should not be is irrelevant when it comes to the matter of what they have a legal right to be.  Whether I like it or not, nurses have a human right to be good Catholics.”

As Adenitire observes, the BMA restricts conscientious objection to three specific scenarios: “…conscientious objection should ordinarily be limited to those procedures where statute recognises their right (abortion and fertility treatment) and to withdrawing life-prolonging treatment from patients who lack capacity, where other doctors are in a position to take over the care.”

The language of the BMA policy statement would suggest that more remote instances of conscientious objection – such as where a nurse wishes not to take place in administrative or supervisory tasks associated with the provision of abortions – are impermissible. Yet Adenitire suggests that the UK Human Rights Act mandates that hospitals consider a medical professional’s right to object even where the perceived evil is remote. 

“Under the Human Rights Act, individuals have a right to freedom of conscience and religion.  That right may, in appropriate circumstances, entail the right for nurses to object to being involved in administrative and supervisory duties connected with abortion services.”  

Referring to a 2014 Supreme Court judgement, Adenitire comments:

“If you ask me how the Supreme Court avoided having to consider the nurses’ human right to freedom of conscience and religion I couldn’t tell you.  I bet neither could any of the Law Dons at Oxford.”


Nurses have a human right to be good Catholics
Xavier Symons
Creative commons
Catholic bioethics
Catholic Church
conscientious objection
human rights
religious liberty