Testing conscientious objection by the norm of medicine

Toni C. Saad, Gregory Jackson


Clinical Ethics

Debate persists over the place of conscience in medicine. Some argue for the complete exclusion of conscientious objection, while others claim an absolute right of refusal. This paper proposes that claims of conscientious objection can and should be permitted if they concern kinds of actions which fall outside of the normative standard of medicine, which is the pursuit of health. Medical practice which meets this criterion we call medicine qua medicine. If conscientious refusal concerns something consonant with the health-restoring aims of medicine, it entails a desertion of professional duty. If, however, it relates to something other than medicine qua medicine, it can rightly be refused. It thus becomes possible to test instances of conscientious objection to determine their validity, and thereby conserve both the principle of conscientious objection and define its scope. This test of conscience prevents arbitrary discrimination, and preserves doctors’ agency. It is a theoretical razor rooted in the practical reasoning of medicine whose operation will prompt, if nothing else, reflection on the goals of medicine.

Saad TC, Jackson G. Testing conscientious objection by the norm of medicine. Clinical Ethics 2018 Mar; 13(1); 9-16.

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