Abstract Background: In 2019, the Constitutional Court of South Korea ruled that the anti-abortion provisions in the Criminal Act, which criminalize abortion, do not conform to the Constitution. This decision will lead to a total reversal of doctors’ legal duty from the obligation to refuse abortion services to their requirement to provide them, given the Medical Service Act that states that a doctor may not refuse a request for treatment or assistance in childbirth. I argue, confined to abortion services in Korea that will take place in the near future, that doctors should be granted the legal right to exercise conscientious objection to abortion.
Main text: Considering that doctors in Korea have been ethically and legally obligated to refrain from abortions for many years, imposing a universal legal duty to provide abortions that does not allow exception may endanger the moral integrity of individual doctors who chose a career when abortion was illegal. The universal imposition of such a duty may result in repudiation of doctors as moral agents and damage trust in doctors that forms the basis of medical professionalism. Even if conscientious objection to abortion is granted as a legal right, most patients would experience no impediment to receiving abortion services because the healthcare environment of Korea provides options in which patients can choose their doctors based on prior information, there are many doctors who would be willing to provide an abortion, and Korea is a relatively small country. Finally, the responsibility to effectively balance and guarantee the respective rights of the two agents involved in abortion, the doctor and the patient, should be imposed on the government rather than individual doctors. This assertion is based on the government’s past behaviours, the nature of its relationship with doctors, and the capacity it has to satisfy both doctors’ right to conscientious objection and patients’ right to legal medical services.
Conclusion: With regard to abortion services that will be sought in the near future, doctors should be granted the legal right to exercise conscientious objection based on the importance of doctor’s moral integrity, lack of impediment to patients, and government responsibility.
Abstract Conflict of interests (COIs) in medicine are typically taken to be financial in nature: it is often assumed that a COI occurs when a healthcare practitioner’s financial interest conflicts with patients’ interests, public health interests, or professional obligations more generally. Even when non-financial COIs are acknowledged, ethical concerns are almost exclusively reserved for financial COIs. However, the notion of “interests” cannot be reduced to its financial component. Individuals in general, and medical professionals in particular, have different types of interests, many of which are non-financial in nature but can still conflict with professional obligations. The debate about healthcare delivery has largely overlooked this broader notion of interests. Here, we will focus on health practitioners’ moral or religious values as particular types of personal interests involved in healthcare delivery that can generate COIs and on conscientious objection in healthcare as the expression of a particular type of COI. We argue that, in the healthcare context, the COIs generated by interests of conscience can be as ethically problematic, and therefore should be treated in the same way, as financial COIs.
Extract If the courts rule that the Constitution allows hospitals to exert control over individual physicians’ claims of professional conscience, it will be a victory for corporate medicine. But if the state law is upheld, the case could establish that physicians’ professional conscience claims hold or take precedence over the ethical and religious directives of religiously affiliated hospitals. It is possible that at least some religiously affiliated health systems might rather close than allow that outcome.
Abstract:Religious considerations and language do not typically belong in the professional advice rendered by a doctor to a patient. Among the rationales mounted by Greenblum and Hubbard in support of that conclusion is that religious considerations and language are incompatible with the role of doctors as public officials.1 Much as I agree with their conclusion, I take issue with this particular aspect of their analysis. It seems based on a mischaracterisation of what societal role doctors fulfil, qua doctors. What obliges doctors to communicate by means of content that is expressed in public reason-based language is not that they are public officials. Doctors as doctors are not necessarily public officials. Rather, doctors have such obligations, because they are professionals. Unlike public officials doctors are part of a profession that is to a significant extent self-governing. This holds true for all professions. The …
Responding to religious patients: why physicians have no business doing theology. Jake Greenblum Ryan K Hubbard Journal of Medical Ethics 2019; – Published Online First: 20 Jun 2019. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2019-105452
Abstract This paper challenges the leading common morality accounts of medical ethics which hold that medical ethics is nothing but the ethics of everyday life applied to today’s high-tech medicine. Using illustrative examples, the paper shows that neither the Beauchamp and Childress four-principle account of medical ethics nor the Gert et al 10-rule version is an adequate and appropriate guide for physicians’ actions. By demonstrating that medical ethics is distinctly different from the ethics of everyday life and cannot be derived from it, the paper argues that medical professionals need a touchstone other than common morality for guiding their professional decisions. That conclusion implies that a new theory of medical ethics is needed to replace common morality as the standard for understanding how medical professionals should behave and what medical professionalism entails. En route to making this argument, the paper addresses fundamental issues that require clarification: what is a profession? how is a profession different from a role? how is medical ethics related to medical professionalism? The paper concludes with a preliminary sketch for a theory of medical ethics.
Rhodes R. Why not common morality? J Med Ethics 2019;0:1–8. Published Online First: 11 September 2019. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2019-105621
Abstract Is conscientious objection (CO) necessarily incompatible with the role and duties of a healthcare professional? An influential minority of writers on the subject think that it is. Here, we outline the positive case for accommodating CO and examine one particular type of incompatibility claim, namely that CO is fundamentally incompatible with proper healthcare professionalism because the attitude of the conscientious objector exists in opposition to the disposition (attitudes and underlying character) that we should expect from a ‘good’ healthcare professional. We ask first whether this claim is true in principle: what is the disposition of a ‘good’ healthcare professional, and how does CO align with or contradict it? Then, we consider practical compatibility, acknowledging the need to identify appropriate limits on the exercise of CO and considering what those limits might be. We conclude that CO is not fundamentally incompatible – either in principle or in practice – with good healthcare professionalism.
Extract As a whole, this collection of essays raises to the surface some of the key questions that underlie ongoing disputes about health-care practitioners refusing patients’ requests—namely, what is the conscience, and what is medicine? We hope that by foregrounding these questions and offering contrasting responses to them, this collection serves to bring greater clarity to ongoing disputes about what we might reasonably expect of physicians when patients request interventions that physicians do not believe they should provide.
Abstract Disputes about conscientious refusals reflect, at root, two rival accounts of what medicine is for and what physicians reasonably profess. On what we call the “provider of services model,” a practitioner of medicine is professionally obligated to provide interventions that patients request so long as the interventions are legal, feasible, and are consistent with well-being as the patient perceives it. On what we call the “Way of Medicine,” by contrast, a practitioner of medicine is professionally obligated to seek the patient’s health, objectively construed, and to refuse requests for interventions that contradict that profession. These two accounts coexist amicably so long as what patients want is for their practitioners to use their best judgment to pursue the patient’s health. But conscientious refusals expose the fact that the two accounts are ultimately irreconcilable. As such, the medical profession faces a choice: either suppress conscientious refusals, and so reify the provider of services model and demoralize medicine, or recover the Way of Medicine, and so allow physicians to refuse requests for any intervention that is not unequivocally required by the physician’s profession to preserve and restore the patient’s health.
Abstract The moral pluralism of Western democratic societies results in ethical differences among citizens and health professionals, due to contrasts between the foundational beliefs and values on which their ethical convictions rest. Some of these differences have challenging implications for the practice of medicine when a patient seeks access to a legal medical service that a conscientiously acting physician believes is unethical. Such disagreements raise pivotal questions about competing ethical values, the moral dynamic of shared decision-making, the meaning of conscience, and the extent to which society will accept ethical differences in professional practice. The act of referral is the focal point of this essay, because it appears to be at the front line of some current debates and legal contests about the extent to which society is willing to accommodate conscientious practice by physicians. Some see referrals as a way to balance respect for physician integrity with promotion of patient autonomy; others see referrals as a mistaken attempt at compromise that misunderstands the meaning of moral responsibility and participation. Understanding conscience as integrity helps explain the moral seriousness of conscientious practice and reinforces the need for professional and legal accommodations that respect it.
Charles L Sprung, Margaret A Somerville, Lukas Radbruch, Nathalie Steiner Collet, Gunnar Duttge, Jefferson P Piva, Massimo Antonelli, Daniel P Sulmasy, Willem Lemmens, E Wesley Ely
Abstract Medical professional societies have traditionally opposed physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia (PAS-E), but this opposition may be shifting. We present 5 reasons why physicians shouldn’t be involved in PAS-E.
1. Slippery slopes: There is evidence that safeguards in the Netherlands and Belgium are ineffective and violated, including administering lethal drugs without patient consent, absence of terminal illness, untreated psychiatric diagnoses, and nonreporting;
2. Lack of self-determination: Psychological and social motives characterize requests for PAS-E more than physical symptoms or rational choices; many requests disappear with improved symptom control and psychological support;
3. Inadequate palliative care: Better palliative care makes most patients physically comfortable. Many individuals requesting PAS-E don’t want to die but to escape their suffering. Adequate treatment for depression and pain decreases the desire for death;
4. Medical professionalism: PAS-E transgresses the inviolable rule that physicians heal and palliate suffering but never intentionally inflict death;
5. Differences between means and ends: Proeuthanasia advocates look to the ends (the patient’s death) and say the ends justify the means; opponents disagree and believe that killing patients to relieve suffering is different from allowing natural death and is not acceptable.
Conclusions: Physicians have a duty to eliminate pain and suffering, not the person with the pain and suffering. Solutions for suffering lie in improving palliative care and social conditions and addressing the reasons for PAS-E requests. They should not include changing medical practice to allow PAS-E.