Abstract This Article presents the first empirical study of state conscience laws that establish explicit procedural protections for medical providers who refuse to participate in providing reproductive health services, including abortion, sterilization, contraception, and emergency contraception.
Scholarship and public debate about law’s role in protecting health care providers’ conscience rights typically focus on who should be protected, what actions should be protected, and whether there should be any limitations on the exercise of conscience rights. This study, conducted in accordance with best methodological practices from the social sciences for policy surveillance and legal mapping, is the first to provide concrete data on the vital but unanswered question of how these laws actually operate–that is, the precise procedural mechanisms by which laws protect medical providers who decline to provide services that violate their deeply held conscientious beliefs.
This Article demonstrates that state laws vary dramatically in the types of protections they offer. States may immunize health care providers from a range of potential adverse consequences including civil liability, criminal prosecution, professional discipline, employment discrimination, discrimination in educational opportunities, and denial of public or private funding, among others. Of these, immunity from civil liability, or “civil immunity,” is by far the most common procedural protection. In a majority of states, civil immunity is absolute–providing no exceptions in cases of malpractice, denial of emergency treatment, or even patient death. In practice, these laws eliminate patients’ common law right to recover monetary damages when they suffer physical injury as a result of a health care provider’s conscience-based deviation from the standard of care.
While many scholars have examined the impact of conscience laws on patient access to medical care, there has been no comprehensive analysis of these laws’ impact on patients’ right to a tort law remedy when they are denied care. This Article not only raises awareness of the previously unrecognized breadth of protections established by U.S. conscience law, but also challenges basic assumptions about tort law’s ability to remedy harms suffered by victims of medical malpractice in reproductive health care contexts. These findings create an important opportunity for further policy discussion about the scope of health care conscience laws.
Extract We must return to our Pythagorean roots and not substitute a secular group conscience to replace individual conscience, and thereby protect the rights of all parties. My hope is that our specialty will uphold the right of individual clinicians to practise according to their consciences and we will continue to welcome Hippocratic clinicians into our ranks.
Abstract This study was commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the FEMM Committee. It aims to provide a comparative overview of the situation in the European Union, with particular focus on six selected Member States, in terms of access to sexual and reproductive healthcare goods (such as medicines) and services (such as abortion and family planning), from both legal and practical perspectives. The study looks at the extent to which conscientious objection affects access to sexual and reproductive rights (SRHR). The study will contribute to formulating a clear framework for the improvement of access to sexual and reproductive healthcare goods and services in the EU
Abstract Background: Hans Asperger (1906–1980) first designated a group of children with distinct psychological characteristics as ‘autistic psychopaths’ in 1938, several years before Leo Kanner’s famous 1943 paper on autism. In 1944, Asperger published a comprehensive study on the topic (submitted to Vienna University in 1942 as his postdoctoral thesis), which would only find international acknowledgement in the 1980s. From then on, the eponym ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ increasingly gained currency in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the conceptualization of the condition. At the time, the fact that Asperger had spent pivotal years of his career in Nazi Vienna caused some controversy regarding his potential ties to National Socialism and its race hygiene policies. Documentary evidence was scarce, however, and over time a narrative of Asperger as an active opponent of National Socialism took hold. The main goal of this paper is to re-evaluate this narrative, which is based to a large extent on statements made by Asperger himself and on a small segment of his published work.
Methods: Drawing on a vast array of contemporary publications and previously unexplored archival documents (including Asperger’s personnel files and the clinical assessments he wrote on his patients), this paper offers a critical examination of Asperger’s life, politics, and career before and during the Nazi period in Austria.
Results: Asperger managed to accommodate himself to the Nazi regime and was rewarded for his affirmations of loyalty with career opportunities. He joined several organizations affiliated with the NSDAP (although not the Nazi party itself), publicly legitimized race hygiene policies including forced sterilizations and, on several occasions, actively cooperated with the child ‘euthanasia’ program. The language he employed to diagnose his patients was often remarkably harsh (even in comparison with assessments written by the staff at Vienna’s notorious Spiegelgrund ‘euthanasia’ institution), belying the notion that he tried to protect the children under his care by embellishing their diagnoses.
Conclusion: The narrative of Asperger as a principled opponent of National Socialism and a courageous defender of his patients against Nazi ‘euthanasia’ and other race hygiene measures does not hold up in the face of the historical evidence. What emerges is a much more problematic role played by this pioneer of autism research. Future use of the eponym should reflect the troubling context of its origins in Nazi-era Vienna.
Abstract A widespread assumption has taken hold in the field of medicine that we must allow health care professionals the right to refuse treatment under the guise of ‘conscientious objection’ (CO), in particular for women seeking abortions. At the same time, it is widely recognized that the refusal to treat creates harm and barriers for patients receiving reproductive health care. In response, many recommendations have been put forward as solutions to limit those harms. Further, some researchers make a distinction between true CO and ‘obstructionist CO’, based on the motivations or actions of various objectors. This paper argues that ‘CO’ in reproductive health care should not be considered a right, but an unethical refusal to treat. Supporters of CO have no real defence of their stance, other than the mistaken assumption that CO in reproductive health care is the same as CO in the military, when the two have nothing in common (for example, objecting doctors are rarely disciplined, while the patient pays the price). Refusals to treat are based on non-verifiable personal beliefs, usually religious beliefs, but introducing religion into medicine undermines best practices that depend on scientific evidence and medical ethics. CO therefore represents an abandonment of professional obligations to patients. Countries should strive to reduce the number of objectors in reproductive health care as much as possible until CO can feasibly be prohibited. Several Scandinavian countries already have a successful ban on CO.
Abstract The right to conscientious objection in the provision of healthcare is the subject of a lengthy, heated and controversial debate. Recently, a new dimension was added to this debate by the US Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby et al. which effectively granted rights to freedom of conscience to private, for-profit corporations. In light of this paradigm shift, we examine one of the most contentious points within this debate, the impact of granting conscience exemptions to healthcare providers on the ability of women to enjoy their rights to reproductive autonomy. We argue that the exemptions demanded by objecting healthcare providers cannot be justified on the liberal, pluralist grounds on which they are based, and impose unjustifiable costs on both individual persons, and society as a whole. In doing so, we draw attention to a worrying trend in healthcare policy in Europe and the United States to undermine women’s rights to reproductive autonomy by prioritizing the rights of ideologically motivated service providers to an unjustifiably broad form of freedom of conscience.
Extract Healthcare providers who cite conscientious objection as grounds for refusing to provide components of legal reproductive care highlight the tension between their right to exercise their conscience and women’s rights to receive needed care. There are also societal obligations and ramifications at stake, including the responsibility for negotiating balance between all of these competing interests. . .
. . . There are too many barriers to access to reproductive health- care. Conscience-based refusal of care may be one that we can successfully address.
Wendy Chavkin, Liddy Leitman, Kate Polin, Global Doctors for Choice
Abstract Background Global Doctors for Choice—a transnational network of physician advocates for reproductive health and rights—began exploring the phenomenon of conscience-based refusal of reproductive healthcare as a result of increasing reports of harms worldwide. The present White Paper examines the prevalence and impact of such refusal and reviews policy efforts to balance individual conscience, autonomy in reproductive decision making, safeguards for health, and professional medical integrity.
Objectives and search strategy The White Paper draws on medical, public health, legal, ethical, and social science literature published between 1998 and 2013 in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. Estimates of prevalence are difficult to obtain, as there is no consensus about criteria for refuser status and no standardized definition of the practice, and the studies have sampling and other methodologic limitations. The White Paper reviews these data and offers logical frameworks to represent the possible health and health system consequences of conscience-based refusal to provide abortion; assisted reproductive technologies; contraception; treatment in cases of maternal health risk and inevitable pregnancy loss; and prenatal diagnosis. It concludes by categorizing legal, regulatory, and other policy responses to the practice.
Conclusions Empirical evidence is essential for varied political actors as they respond with policies or regulations to the competing concerns at stake. Further research and training in diverse geopolitical settings are required. With dual commitments toward their own conscience and their obligations to patients’ health and rights, providers and professional medical/public health societies must lead attempts to respond to conscience-based refusal and to safeguard reproductive health, medical integrity, and women’s lives.
Abstract Some philosophers have argued for what I call the reason-giving requirement for conscientious refusal in reproductive healthcare. According to this requirement, healthcare practitioners who conscientiously object to administering standard forms of treatment must have arguments to back up their conscience, arguments that are purely public in character. I argue that such a requirement, though attractive in some ways, faces an overlooked epistemic problem: it is either too easy or too difficult to satisfy in standard cases. I close by briefly considering whether a version of the reason-giving requirement can be salvaged despite this important difficulty.
Abstract The practice of conscientious objection often arises in the area of individuals refusing to fulfil compulsory military service requirements and is based on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as protected by national, international and regional human rights law. The practice of conscientious objection also arises in the field of health care, when individual health care providers or institutions refuse to provide certain health services based on religious, moral or philosophical objections. The use of conscientious objection by health care providers to reproductive health care services, including abortion, contraceptive prescriptions, and prenatal tests, among other services is a growing phenomena throughout Europe. However, despite recent progress from the European Court of Human Rights on this issue (RR v. Poland, 2011), countries and international and regional bodies generally have failed to comprehensively and effectively regulate this practice, denying many women reproductive health care services they are legally entitled to receive. The Italian Ministry of Health reported that in 2008 nearly 70% of gynaecologists in Italy refuse to perform abortions on moral grounds. It found that between 2003 and 2007 the number of gynaecologists invoking conscientious objection in their refusal to perform an abortion rose from 58.7 percent to 69.2 percent. Italy is not alone in Europe, for example, the practice is prevalent in Poland, Slovakia, and is growing in the United Kingdom. This article outlines the international and regional human rights obligations and medical standards on this issue, and highlights some of the main gaps in these standards. It illustrates how European countries regulate or fail to regulate conscientious objection and how these regulations are working in practice, including examples of jurisprudence from national level courts and cases before the European Court of Human Rights. Finally, the article will provide recommendations to national governments as well as to international and regional bodies on how to regulate conscientious objection so as to both respect the practice of conscientious objection while protecting individual’s right to reproductive health care.