Rawls, Reasonableness, and Conscientious Objection in Health Care

Xavier Symons

Rawls, Reasonableness, and Conscientious Objection in Health Care

Much ink has been spilled in recent years over the controversial topic of conscientious objection in health care. In particular, commentators have proposed various ways with which we might distinguish legitimate conscience claims from those that are poorly reasoned or based on prejudice. The aim of this chapter is to argue in favor of the “reasonableness” approach to conscientious objection, viz., the view that we should develop an account of “reasonableness” and “reasonable disagreement” and use this as a way of distinguishing licit and illicit conscience claims. The author discusses Rawls’ account of “reasonableness” and “reasonable disagreement,” and consider how this might guide us in regulating conscientious objection in health care. The author analyzes the “public reason” account offered in Card (2007, 2014), and argue that we should modify Card’s account to include a consensus among regulators about what counts as “basic medical care.” The author suggests that Medical Conscientious Objection Review boards should consider whether conscience-based refusals are based on defensible ethical foundations.


Symons X. Rawls, Reasonableness, and Conscientious Objection in Health Care. In: Grant B, Drew J, Christensen H, editors. Applied Ethics in the Fractured State (Research in Ethical Issues in Organizations, Vol. 20). Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing Limited; 2018. p. 45-54. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1529-209620180000020004

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