The Challenges of Conscientious Objection in Health care

Hasan Shanawani

Journal of Religion & Health
Journal of Religion & Health

Conscientious objection (CO) is the refusal to perform a legal role or responsibility because of personal beliefs. In health care, conscientious objection involves practitioners not providing certain treatments to their patients, based on reasons of morality or “conscience.” The development of conscientious objection among providers is complex and challenging. While there may exist good reasons to accommodate COs of clinical providers, the exercise of rights and beliefs of the provider has an impact on a patient’s health and/ or their access to care. For this reason, it is incumbent on the provider with a CO to minimize or eliminate the impact of their CO both on the delivery of care to the patients they serve and on the medical system in which they serve patients. The increasing exercise of CO, and its impact on large segments of the population, is made more complex by the provision of government-funded health care benefits by private entities. The result is a blurring of the lines between the public, civic space, where all people and corporate entities are expected to have similar rights and responsibilities, and the private space, where personal beliefs and restrictions are expected to be more tolerated. This paper considers the following questions: (1) What are the allowances or limits of the exercise a CO against the rights of a patient to receive care within accept practice? (2) In a society where there exist “private,” personal rights and responsibilities, as well as “civil” or public/shared rights and responsibilities, what defines the boundaries of the public, civil, and private space? (3) As providers and patients face the exercise of CO, what roles, responsibilities, and rights do organizations and institutions have in this interaction?

Shanawani H. The Challenges of Conscientious Objection in Health care. J Religion Health. 2016 Feb 29;55(2):384-393.

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