The Independence of Judicial Conscience

Barry W. Bussey

The Independence of Judicial Conscience

. . . Competence and character are no longer the sole criteria for evaluating a judicial nominee; candidates face a climate which demands they have the “correct” moral opinions on fundamental human rights issues. Those
issues include abortion, marriage, and the euphemistically-termed Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). . . to disregard the judicial conscience is to compromise the dignity of the judge, the worth of her convictions, the fullness of her humanity. Even more, it undermines the very essence of what distinguishes a democratic society characterized by diversity, inclusion, and freedom.


Bussey BW. The Independence of Judicial Conscience. J Christian Legal Thought. 2019; 9(2): 34-37.

Do physicians require consent to withhold CPR that they determine to be nonbeneficial?

James Downar, Eliana Close, Robert Sibbald

Do physicians require consent to withhold CPR that they determine to be nonbeneficial?

Key Points

  • The Ontario Superior Court of Justice recently determined that, under both Ontario’s health care consent legislation and common law, physicians do not require consent to withhold cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) that they believe to be medically inappropriate.
  • Physicians in Ontario need to distinguish carefully between a scenario where CPR would be outside the standard of care and should not be offered and a scenario where CPR is within the standard of care but the physician does not feel it is in the patient’s best interests; each scenario demands a different response.
  • Physicians still have a professional responsibility to communicate (or make reasonable efforts to communicate) honestly and compassionately about the limitations of CPR and the alternatives to aggressive care.

Downar J, Close E, Sibbald R. Do physicians require consent to withhold CPR that they determine to be nonbeneficial? CMAJ 2019 Nov 25; 191 (47) E1289-E1290; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.191196.

Colorado End-of-Life Options Act

A Clash of Organizational and Individual Conscience

Matthew Wynia

Journal of the American Medical Association

The 2016 Colorado End-of-Life Options Act includes a provision unique among states with such laws, specifically privileging individual health care professionals, including physicians and pharmacists, to choose whether to write and fill prescriptions for life-ending medications, such as high-dose secobarbital or various combinations of morphine, diazepam, beta-blockers, and digoxin, without regard to the position their employer has taken on the law. This provision virtually guaranteed the Colorado law would eventually be challenged, which happened in August 2019.1 The current legal case directly pits the conscience rights of individual health care professionals against those of religiously affiliated corporations. Because 5 of the top 10 US hospital systems by net revenue are now religiously affiliated,2 and these systems often restrict medical care in a variety of ways,3 how the case is resolved could have far-reaching implications for US health care, extending well beyond the relatively rare use of aid-in-dying medications at the end of life.


Wynia M. Colorado End-of-Life Options Act: A Clash of Organizational and Individual Conscience. JAMA. 2019;322(20):1953-1954. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.16438

In the Footsteps of Teiresias: Treatment for Gender Dysphoria in Children and the Role of the Courts

Mike O’Connor, Bill Madden

Journal of Law and Medicine

The Family Court of Australia has stepped back from a previously perceived need for involvement in the approval of stage 1 and stage 2 treatments, for children requiring gender transformation. At present those children and their families who are in agreement need not seek authorisation of the Family Court to undertake either Stage 1 (pubarche blockade with gonadotrophin-releasing hormone agonists) or Stage 2 treatment (cross-hormone therapy such as oestrogen for transgender males). Stage 1 treatment to suppress pubarche would nowadays be commenced at Tanner stage 2 which commences as early as 9.96 years in girls and 10.14 years in boys. Suppression of puberty continues until the age of 16 years when cross hormonal treatment commences. This article questions the assertion that suppression of puberty by GnRH analogues either in cases of precocious puberty or gender dysphoria is “safe and reversible” and argues that it warrants ongoing caution, despite the Family Court having broadly accepted that assertion.


O’Connor M, Madden B. In the Footsteps of Teiresias: Treatment for Gender Dysphoria in Children and the Role of the Courts. J Law Med. 2019 Oct;27(1):149-163.

Is it ever morally permissible to select for deafness in one’s child?

Jacqueline Mae Wallis

Is it ever morally permissible to select for deafness in one’s child?

Abstract: As reproductive genetic technologies advance, families have more options to choose what sort of child they want to have. Using preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), for example, allows parents to evaluate several existing embryos before selecting which to implant via in vitro fertilization (IVF). One of the traits PGD can identify is genetic deafness, and hearing embryos are now preferentially selected around the globe using this method. Importantly, some Deaf families desire a deaf child, and PGD–IVF is also an option for them. Selection for genetic deafness, however, encounters widespread disapproval in the hearing community, including mainstream philosophy and bioethics. In this paper I apply Elizabeth Barnes’ value-neutral model of disability as mere-difference to the case of selecting for deafness. I draw on evidence from Deaf Studies and Disability Studies to build an understanding of deafness, the Deaf community, and the circumstances relevant to reproductive choices that may obtain for some Deaf families. Selection for deafness, with deafness understood as mere-difference and valued for its cultural identity, need not necessitate impermissible moral harms. I thus advocate that it is sometimes morally permissible to select for deafness in one’s child.


Wallis, J.M. Is it ever morally permissible to select for deafness in one’s child?. Med Health Care and Philos 23, 3–15 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11019-019-09922-6

Professionalism eliminates religion as a proper tool for doctors rendering advice to patients

Udo Schuklenk

Professionalism eliminates religion as a proper tool for doctors rendering advice to patients

Abstract:Religious considerations and language do not typically belong in the professional advice rendered by a doctor to a patient. Among the rationales mounted by Greenblum and Hubbard in support of that conclusion is that religious considerations and language are incompatible with the role of doctors as public officials.1 Much as I agree with their conclusion, I take issue with this particular aspect of their analysis. It seems based on a mischaracterisation of what societal role doctors fulfil, qua doctors. What obliges doctors to communicate by means of content that is expressed in public reason-based language is not that they are public officials. Doctors as doctors are not necessarily public officials. Rather, doctors have such obligations, because they are professionals. Unlike public officials doctors are part of a profession that is to a significant extent self-governing. This holds true for all professions. The …

Responding to religious patients: why physicians have no business doing theology. Jake Greenblum Ryan K Hubbard Journal of Medical Ethics 2019; – Published Online First: 20 Jun 2019. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2019-105452


Schuklenk U. Professionalism eliminates religion as a proper tool for doctors rendering advice to patients. J Medical Ethics. 2019 Sep 12. pii: medethics-2019-105703. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2019-105703. [Epub ahead of print]

Why not common morality?

Rosamond Rhodes

Why not common morality?

Abstract: This paper challenges the leading common morality accounts of medical ethics which hold that medical ethics is nothing but the ethics of everyday life applied to today’s high-tech medicine. Using illustrative examples, the paper shows that neither the Beauchamp and Childress four-principle account of medical ethics nor the Gert et al 10-rule version is an adequate and appropriate guide for physicians’ actions. By demonstrating that medical ethics is distinctly different from the ethics of everyday life and cannot be derived from it, the paper argues that medical professionals need a touchstone other than common morality for guiding their professional decisions. That conclusion implies that a new theory of medical ethics is needed to replace common morality as the standard for understanding how medical professionals should behave and what medical professionalism entails. En route to making this argument, the paper addresses fundamental issues that require clarification: what is a profession? how is a profession different from a role? how is medical ethics related to medical professionalism? The paper concludes with a preliminary sketch for a theory of medical ethics.


Rhodes R. Why not common morality? J Med Ethics 2019;0:1–8. Published Online First: 11 September 2019. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2019-105621

Book Review: Religious Exemptions

Jacqueline Lang

Book Review: Religious Exemptions

Edited by Kevin Vallier and Michael Weber, New York, NY, Oxford University Press, 2018, 328 pp., £61 (hardback), ISBN: 9780190666187

An exemption from legal requirements is a right to be excluded from specific law that, to all intents and purposes, have general application. A religious exemption broadly, is an exemption on religious or conscientious grounds. Of course, an exemption can function in any positive legal framework and at any time. It can exist in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia or any oppressive regime we care to consider. . .

Religious Exemptions, edited by Kevin Vallier and Michael Weber, contains fourteen chapters by authors analysing the concept of a religious exemption in the context of recent accretions in contemporary American positive law. The text explores a variety of issues, including vaccine refusal, commercial accommodations, exemption from equality of the sexes, same-sex marriage and trial proceedings. Whereas, in the past, religious exemptions were limited in scope, governing such narrow subjects a pacifist exemptions against compulsory military service and certain small religious exemptions to education, now, large sectors of religious and conscientious objectors seek exemptions from an ever-burgeoning catalogue of state-mandated duties to participate in a wide range of contentious matters from abortion and euthanasia to same-sex marriage. In modem times, the laws newly introduced incur significant harm to whole sections of the community. A Muslim or Christian objector to same-sex marriage, for example, might never find employment in his field because he is automatically classified as guilty of hate and unlawful discrimination. . .


Lang J.  Book Review: Religious exemptions.  New Bioethics 2019 Sep; 25(3): 290-292, DOI:10.1080/20502877.2019.1649867

Book Review: The Conscience Wars; Rethinking the Balance between Religion, Identity, and Equality

Christopher Cowley

Conscience Wars

Edited by Susanna Mancini and Michel Rosenfeld. Pp. 493. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2018. £76. ISBN: 978-1107173309>

This volume is based on a conference held at the Cardozo School of Law in ew York in 2015, and brings together American and European law academics to discuss the distinctive ways in which conscience claims have ‘spread’ in the public discourse over the last two or three decades. Conscientious objection used to be an individual matter for e.g. draftees and doctors, aimed at recusing oneself from complicity with evil, in contrast to civil disobedience, which was a larger collective movement aimed at changing public opinion and the law. These days, however, conscience seems to be in the news much more, mostly associated with organized religious conservative agendas – hence the title’s reference to a ‘war’ playing out in parallel to the efforts in and around a country’s legislature. Perhaps the most famous recent case of mobilized public conscience was that of the US Supreme Court case of Burwell u Hobby Lobby (2014), in which the owners of a company successfully challenged the legal requirement (under the 2010 Affordable Care Act) that the company fund contraception for its female employees. The owners’ objection was religious, and was framed in terms of their right to religious expression. . .


Cowley C.  Book Review: The Conscience Wars; Rethinking the Balance between Religion, Identity, and Equality. New Bioethics. 2019 Sep; 25(3): 286-289, DOI:10.1080/20502877.2019.1647039

Book Review: Opting Out. Conscience and Cooperation in a Pluralistic Society

Morten Magelssen

Book Review: Opting Out. Conscience and Cooperation in a Pluralistic Society

By David Oderberg. Pp. 136. London: The Institute of Economic Affairs. 2018. Paperback, £12.50; free e-book, at https://iea.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Oderberg-Interactive.pdf. ISBN:978-0-255-36761-5.

Abstract: In this brief monograph, the philosopher David Oderberg argues that freedom of conscience and religion, as fundamental rights in a liberal democracy, need increased protection in legislation and from the courts. Conscientious objection – in which a professional refuses to perform specific tasks for moral or religious reasons – is especially relevant in healthcare. Oderberg draws most of his examples from this field (e.g. abortion, contraception, treatment-limiting decisions and euthanasia), but also discusses cases from other sectors, such as the bakers and florists who refused to sell goods in connection with gay weddings. . . [Full text]


Magelssen M.  Book Review: Opting Out. Conscience and Cooperation in a Pluralistic Society.  New Bioethics 2019 Sep; 25(3): 283-286, DOI:10.1080/20502877.2019.1647038.