The Ethics of Conscientious Objection in Health Care

deVeber Institute
Annual Public Lecture with Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto

In the wake of the legalization of physician-assisted death, conscientious objection in medicine has become a matter of considerable controversy. Some bioethicists have called for severe restrictions on the physician’s capacity to object to patient requests on ethical grounds, and some Colleges of Physicians have enacted such restrictions.

This issue raises fundamentally important questions: what is the basis of the physician’s professional obligations? To what extent is the physician obligated to honour patient requests? What is the goal and purpose of medical practice? How can we resolve differences in ethical beliefs in a deeply pluralistic society? This controversy engages contested ethical, political and religious matters and promises to influence patient care and the practice of medicine in Canada in coming years. This lecture aims to chart a course through these muddied waters.

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