How special is medical conscience?

David S. Oderberg

How special is medical conscience?


The vigorous legal and ethical debates over conscientious objection have taken place largely within the domain of health care. Is this because conscience in medicine is of a special kind, or are there other reasons why it tends to dominate these debates? Beginning with an analysis of the analogy between medical conscience and conscientious objection in wartime, I go on to examine various possible grounds for distinguishing between medicine and other professional contexts (taking law and accountancy as examples). The conclusion is that no principled difference exists between the military and medical cases, nor between the health professions and other professions. Nevertheless, there are practical reasons why medical conscience has distinctive importance, mainly concerning the rapid advance of medical technology. Medical conscience will, for these reasons, continue to drive the debate over conscientious objection, even though legal protection should in principle extend to all professions.

Oderberg DS.  How Special is medical conscience? New Bioethics. 2019 Sep; 25(3): 207-220, DOI:10.1080/20502877.2019.1651078.

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