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CONSCIENCE-GEORGE (UPDATED) Mar-18-2009 (700 words) xxxn

Cardinal warns of despotism if conscience rights aren't protected

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Warning that a failure to protect conscience rights would move the country "from democracy to despotism," Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago urged U.S. Catholics to tell the Obama administration that they "want conscience protections to remain strongly in place."

"No government should come between an individual person and God -- that's what America is supposed to be about," said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a videotaped message available on the USCCB Web site at www.usccb.org/conscienceprotection and on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NoCRwMqVzQ.

"This is the true common ground for us as Americans," he added. "We therefore need legal protections for freedom of conscience and of religion -- including freedom for religious health care institutions to be true to themselves."

The USCCB site also includes videos in support of conscience protection by a doctor, a nurse and two medical students.

Cardinal George was urging public comment by April 9 on an effort to rescind a regulation of the Department of Health and Human Services. The rule codifies several existing federal statutes prohibiting discrimination against health professionals who decline to participate in abortions or other medical procedures because of their religious or other moral objections.

HHS opened a 30-day comment period on the proposed rescission March 10. The regulation took effect two days before President Barack Obama took office.

The cardinal said the issue centers on "two principles or ideas that have been basic to life in our country: religious liberty and the freedom of personal conscience."

He noted that conscientious objection has been allowed for those opposed to participating in a war, "even though it's good to defend your country," and for doctors who do not want to be involved in administering the death penalty.

"Why shouldn't our government and our legal system permit conscientious objection to a morally bad action, the killing of babies in their mother's womb?" Cardinal George asked. "People understand what really happens in an abortion and in related procedures -- a living member of the human family is killed -- ... and no one should be forced by the government to act as though he or she were blind to this reality."

He urged Catholics to tell the Department of Health and Human Services "that you stand for the protection of conscience, especially now for those who provide the health care services so necessary for a good society."

Among others speaking out in favor of the HHS regulation in separate videos were Jesuit Father Myles N. Sheehan, a medical doctor who practices internal medicine and geriatrics; Sally Sanchez, a registered nurse at Provena Mercy Medical Center in Aurora, Ill.; and Michael and Kathryn Redinger, who attend the Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University in Chicago.

"We depend on our conscience for guidance as we work with our patients," Father Sheehan said. "For years, our government has recognized the importance of protecting conscience in a democratic society, especially in the field of medicine where human lives hang in the balance."

Sanchez, speaking in English and Spanish, said she draws on her education, her "life's experience" and her conscience in making every decision.

"If our government will not respect my right to follow my conscience, I can't be the kind of professional you want at your bedside," she said.

The Redingers, who are married, second-year medical students, appeared on their video with their infant daughter, Elizabeth.

Saying that her work as a doctor will rely on "learning from the classroom, kindness from the heart and wisdom rooted in conscience," Kathryn Redinger asked people to "let our government know that our right to live and work by our consciences must be protected."

Comments on the proposed HHS rule change may be submitted through an action alert at www.usccb.org/conscienceprotection, on the Web site www.Regulations.gov (by entering 0991-AB49 in the search box) or via e-mail to proposedrescission@hhs.gov. Attachments may be in Microsoft Word, WordPerfect or Excel, but Microsoft Word is preferred.

By mail, one original and two copies of written comments may be sent to: Office of Public Health and Science, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: Rescission Proposal Comments, Hubert H. Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Ave. SW, Room 716G, Washington, DC 20201.

END


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