Mark R Wicclair
Lauris Kaldjian defends conscientious objection against opponents who claim that there is no place for a physician’s personal moral beliefs in the practice of medicine. This essay argues that Kaldjian’s defense of conscientious objection relies on a controversial “thick” conception of conscience that opponents may justifiably question. It offers a defense that relies on a relatively “thin” conception of conscience as an agent’s core moral beliefs and that understands conscience-based refusals to provide medical services as refusals based on those core beliefs. Enabling physicians to practice medicine without compromising their moral integrity is an important pro tanto reason to accommodate physicians who conscientiously object to providing medical services. However, giving due consideration to the professional obligations of physicians requires constraints on accommodation. Accommodation should not: (1) impede a patient’s timely access to relevant information; (2) impede a patient’s timely access to referral and counselling; (3) impede a patient’s timely access to medical services that are consistent with prevailing professional standards; (4) enable physicians to practice invidious discrimination; (5) place an excessive burden on other health professionals and institutions; or (6) authorize physicians to unilaterally decide to forgo life-sustaining treatment against the wishes of patients or surrogates.
Wicclair MR. Conscientious objection, moral integrity, and professional obligations. Perspect Biol Med. 2019;62(3):543-559. Available from: