Ethical misconduct by abuse of conscientious objection laws

Med Law. 2006 Sep;25(3):513-22. PubMed PMID: 17078524

Bernard M. Dickens

Abstract:

This paper addresses laws and practices urged by conservative religious organizations that invoke conscientious objection in order to deny patients access to lawful procedures. Many are reproductive health services, such as contraception, sterilization and abortion, on which women’s health depends. Religious institutions that historically served a mission to provide healthcare are now perverting this commitment in order to deny care. Physicians who followed their calling honourably in a spirit of self-sacrifice are being urged to sacrifice patients’ interests to promote their own, compromising their professional ethics by conflict of interest. The shield tolerant societies allowed to protect religious conscience is abused by religiously-influenced agencies that beat it into a sword to compel patients, particularly women, to comply with religious values they do not share. This is unethical unless accompanied by objectors’ duty of referral to non-objecting practitioners, and  governmental responsibility to ensure supply of and patients’ access to such practitioners. [Full Text]

Conscientious objection in medicine

BMJ. 2006 February 4; 332(7536): 294–297. doi:  10.1136/bmj.332.7536.294

Julian Savulescu

Shakespeare wrote that “Conscience is but a word cowards use, devised at first to keep the strong in awe” (Richard III V.iv.1.7). Conscience, indeed, can be an excuse for vice or invoked to avoid doing one’s duty. When the duty is a true duty, conscientious objection is wrong and immoral. When there is a grave duty, it should be illegal. A doctors’ conscience has little place in the delivery of modern medical care. What should be provided to patients is defined by the law and consideration of the just distribution of finite medical resources, which requires a reasonable conception of the patient’s good and the patient’s informed desires (box). If people are not prepared to offer legally permitted, efficient, and beneficial care to a patient because it conflicts with their values, they should not be doctors. Doctors should not offer partial medical services or partially discharge their obligations to care for their patients. . .[Full Text]