Referral vs Transfer of Care:Ethical Options When Values Differ

Cynthia Jones-Nosacek

The Linacre Quarterly
The Linacre Quarterly

Conscientious objection (CO) in medicine is where a healthcare professional (HCP) firmly opposes, with an expression of reasoned disapproval, a legally available procedure or treatment that is proscribed by one’s conscience. While there remains controversy regarding whether conscientious objection should be a part of medicine, even among those who support CO state that if the HCP does not provide the requested service such as abortion, physician assisted suicide, etc., there is an obligation on the part of the objecting HCP to refer to someone who will provide it. However, referral makes the referring HCP complicit in the act the referrer believes to be immoral since the referrer has a duty to know that the HCP who will accept the patient is not only able to do the procedure but is competent in its performance as well. The referrer thus facilitates the process. Since one has a moral obligation to limit complicity with immoral actions when it cannot be avoided, the alternative is to allow the patient to transfer care to another when the patient has made the autonomous decision to reject the advice of the HCP.

Jones-Nosacek C. Referral vs Transfer of Care:Ethical Options When Values Differ. The Linacre Quarterly 2022 89(1):36-46.

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