Italian Court Censors Atheist Group’s Ads Promoting Health Care Awareness April 14, 2019

Italian Court Censors Atheist Group’s Ads Promoting Health Care Awareness

Since last October, the Unione degli Atei e degli Agnostici Razionalisti (UAAR), an atheist organization in Italy, has been promoting a campaign called “testa o croce.”

It means “Heads or tails.” The idea here is that when it comes to your health care, you shouldn’t have to decide between a doctor who will treat you no matter what or a Catholic priest who might have religious objections to certain kinds of treatment, like abortion or assisted dying. “Don’t rely on chance,” the campaign argues (#NonAffidartiAlCaso).

Why would that even be a choice? Because even though both procedures are legal in the country, many doctors have been refusing to perform them, citing conscientious objections — including religion. UAAR says you should make sure that your doctor doesn’t object before it’s too late, that way you can at least find a doctor who’s accommodating if needed.

For example, the percentage of Italian doctors who exercise “conscientious objection” against performing abortion is enormous, with a peak of 97% of “medici obiettiori” in the region of Molise, where it is almost impossible for a woman to have an abortion in a public hospital, despite access to free and safe abortion being a right recognised by law 194 of 1978. In the region of Liguria, where Genoa is located, the opt-out percentage is above 60%.

It’s a disturbing situation, so the advertisements have value… which may be why they were banned in Genoa earlier this year. According to Humanists International, city officials blocked the campaign in January saying it violated “the respect due to each religion.” That’s a horrible rule to begin with — as if certain beliefs can’t be criticized by virtue of them being religious — but this campaign also isn’t anti-religious. Also, the city allows an anti-abortion group to advertise its beliefs, so it seems like they’re being selective about which opinions are allowed to be promoted.

UAAR appealed the decision in court — and they won last month. Wonderful! UAAR’s Secretary Adele Orioli welcomed the news, saying, “This is an occasion to show once more our commitment to the defense of the rights of every male and female citizen.”

But then the city appealed that decision… and the Italian Council of State has now agreed with the city. The campaign is officially banned, yet again, in the one place it may be needed the most.

UAAR Secretary, Adele Orioli, commented: “This freedom-destroying ruling goes way beyond our most pessimistic expectations. […] We are ready to bring this case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg”.

Humanists International chief executive, Gary McLelland, said: “We stand behind our members the Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics in presenting this campaign, the clear aim of which campaign is to help patients get the services they are entitled to, and not to ‘leave it to chance’.

There is nothing deeply offensive about the idea that — from a patient’s perspective — a doctor who obliges the patient’s rational and personal choice may well be preferable to one who blocks access to services on the basis of their own religious convictions. If some doctors feel ashamed that their choices are being highlighted, then that should prompt them to think again about those choices, and either way it is not a matter on which the state should intervene to block one side of the debate.

“Furthermore there is good evidence to suggest that many of those opting-out are not doing so on the basis of deeply held matters of conscience, but simply have a preference that makes their working lives slightly easier. The system is clearly unfit for a modern country that respects patient’s rights and women’s rights in particular, and UAAR are to be congratulated for highlighting this complex and important issue.”

No matter how you look at it, this ad shouldn’t be censored. It promotes the idea that patients should know what they’re getting. Beyond that, Italy is supposed to be a secular state with freedom of expression, and this is not some obscene campaign that just trashes religion for the hell of it (not that that would be a problem, either).

Genoa’s position here is essentially that patients shouldn’t have complete information about the health care options available to them.

An atheist group shouldn’t be punished for telling people that’s the case, even though it doesn’t have to be.

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