The physician’s right to conscientious objection: an evolving recognition in Europe

Tom Goffin

Medicine and Law

Abstract: Due to the growing number of medical treatments, physicians–who are also human beings with their own conscience and beliefs–are increasingly confronted with treatments that may conflict with their principles and convictions. Although several human rights documents recognize the freedom of conscience and belief, we could not locate the recognition of an explicit right to conscientious objection. Furthermore, a direct application of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as recognized by article 9 of the ECHR, does not include such a right due to the narrow interpretation of this right by the European Court of Human Rights. However, the Court seems to have taken steps away from this narrow interpretation in Pichon and Sajous v. France. Notwithstanding these steps, no general right to conscientious objection exists. Physicians therefore are dependent on a judgment if they refuse a certain treatment because of conscientious objections.


Goffin T. The physician’s right to conscientious objection: an evolving recognition in Europe. Med Law. 2010 Jun;29(2):227-37.

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