The GMC's guidlines do not have the force of law, but they will be referred to in any legal case on the matter. The key paragraphs are these (adressed to doctors):
- Patients may ask you to perform, advise on, or refer them for a treatment or procedure which is not prohibited by law or statutory code of practice in the country where you work, but to which you have a conscientious objection7. In such cases you must tell patients of their right to see another doctor with whom they can discuss their situation and ensure that they have sufficient information8 to exercise that right. In deciding whether the patient has sufficient information, you must explore with the patient what information they might already have, or need.
- In the circumstances described in paragraph 21, if the patient cannot readily make their own arrangements to see another doctor you must ensure that arrangements are made, without delay, for another doctor to take over their care. You must not obstruct patients from accessing services or leave them with nowhere to turn. Whatever your personal beliefs may be about the procedure in question, you must be respectful of the patient’s dignity and views.
- You must be open with patients - both in person and in printed materials such as practice leaflets - about any treatments or procedures which you choose not to provide or arrange because of a conscientious objection, but which are not otherwise prohibited.
- If your post involves arranging treatment or carrying out procedures to which you have a conscientious objection, you should explain your concerns to your employer or contracting body. You should explore constructively with them how to resolve the difficulty without compromising patient care, and without placing an unreasonable burden on colleagues.
- You have an overriding duty to provide care for patients who are in need of medical treatment, whatever the cause of that medical need. It is not acceptable to seek to opt out of treating a particular patient or group of patients because of your personal beliefs or views about them.