Medical Acts and Conscientious Objection: What Can a Physician be Compelled to Do?

Nathan K. Gamble, Michal Pruski

Medical Acts and Conscientious Objection: What Can a Physician be Compelled to Do?

Abstract

A key question has been underexplored in the literature on conscientious objection: if a physician is required to perform ‘medical activities,’ what is a medical activity? This paper explores the question by employing a teleological evaluation of medicine and examining the analogy of military conscripts, commonly cited in the conscientious objection debate. It argues that physicians (and other healthcare professionals) can only be expected to perform and support medical acts – acts directed towards their patients’ health. That is, physicians cannot be forced to provide or support services that are not medical in nature, even if such activities support other socially desirable pursuits. This does not necessarily mean that medical professionals cannot or should not provide non-medical services, but only that they are under no obligation to provide them.

Gamble NK, Pruski M.  Medical Acts and Conscientious Objection: What Can a Physician be Compelled to Do? New Bioethics 2019 Sep; 25(3): 262-282. DOI:10.1080/20502877.2019.1649871

Conscientious Objection and Clinical Judgement: The Right to Refuse to Harm

Toni C. Saad

Conscientious Objection and Clinical Judgement: The Right to Refuse to Harm

Abstract

This paper argues that healthcare aims at the good of health, that this pursuit of the good necessitates conscience, and that conscience is required in every practical judgement, including clinical judgment. Conscientious objection in healthcare is usually restricted to a handful of controversial ends (e.g. abortion, euthanasia, contraception), yet the necessity of conscience in all clinical judgements implies the possibility of conscientious objection to means. The distinction between conscientious objection to means and ends is explored and its implications considered. Based on this, it is suggested that conscientious objection, whether to means or ends, occurs when a proposed course of action comes into irreconcilable conflict with the moral principle ‘do no harm’. It is, therefore, concluded that conscientious objection in healthcare can be conceived as a requirement of the moral imperative to do no harm, the right to refuse to harm in regard to health.


Saad TC. Conscientious Objection and Clinical Judgement: The Right to Refuse to Harm. New Bioethics. 2019 Sep; 25(3): 248-261 DOI:10.1080/20502877.2019.1649863

Selective Conscientious Objection in Healthcare

Christopher Cowley

Selective Conscientious Objection in Healthcare

Abstract

Most discussions of conscientious objection in healthcare assume that the objection is universal: a doctor objects to all abortions. I want to investigate selective objections, where a doctor objects to one abortion but not to another, depending on the circumstances. I consider not only objections to abortion, but also objections to the withdrawal of life-saving treatment at the request of a competent patient, which is almost always selective. I explore how the objector might articulate the selective objection, and what impact it might have on the patient, within the conceptual space of relevant statutes and professional guidelines.


Cowley C.  Selective Conscientious Objection in Healthcare. New Bioethics 2019 Sep; 25(3): 236-247, DOI:10.1080/20502877.2019.1649861.

Is conscientious objection incompatible with healthcare professionalism?

Mary Neal, Sara Fovargue

The New Bioethics

Abstract

Is conscientious objection (CO) necessarily incompatible with the role and duties of a healthcare professional? An influential minority of writers on the subject think that it is. Here, we outline the positive case for accommodating CO and examine one particular type of incompatibility claim, namely that CO is fundamentally incompatible with proper healthcare professionalism because the attitude of the conscientious objector exists in opposition to the disposition (attitudes and underlying character) that we should expect from a ‘good’ healthcare professional. We ask first whether this claim is true in principle: what is the disposition of a ‘good’ healthcare professional, and how does CO align with or contradict it? Then, we consider practical compatibility, acknowledging the need to identify appropriate limits on the exercise of CO and considering what those limits might be. We conclude that CO is not fundamentally incompatible – either in principle or in practice – with good healthcare professionalism.


Neal M, Fovargue S.  Is conscientious objection incompatible with healthcare professionalism? New Bioethics 2019 Sep; 25(3): 221-235, DOI:10.1080/20502877.2019.1651935.

How special is medical conscience?

David S. Oderberg

How special is medical conscience?

Abstract

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.

Guest editorial re: conscience in health care

Special edition of The New Bioethics

Mary Neal, Sara Fovargue & Stephen W. Smith

The New Bioethics

It is probably fair to say that academic interest in the role of conscience in healthcare (and specifically, in the phenomenon of conscientious objection (CO)) has never been more intense, as evidenced by the volume of articles (and indeed, special issues) devoted to the topic in recent years. The three of us have contributed to this burgeoning literature, writing separately and together.

This special issue of The New Bioethics marks the mid-point of a project devised and co-managed by us and funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Research Networks scheme: the Accommodating Conscience Research Network (ACoRN).  Our aim in developing this multidisciplinary network (including academics from arange of disciplines, practitioners, and representatives of professional bodies) is to carve out intellectual space within which to begin exploring conscience/CO inhealthcare from a broadly supportive perspective. Our sense, as participants in academic debates about conscience, is that although the literature contains many rich insights and fascinating discussions, some of the most interesting questions about conscience are being overshadowed by the loudest and most polarized disagreement over whether there is any legitimate role for CO in healthcare at all. This is despite the fact that it seems to us that most contributors adopt positions that are hospitableto the accommodation of CO, at least to some extent and in some circumstances. . . [Full text]


Neal M, Fovargue S, Smith SW. Guest editorial. The New Bioethics. 2019 Sep;25(3): 203-206, DOI:10.1080/20502877.2019.1659485.

Questionable benefits and unavoidable personal beliefs: defending conscientious objection for abortion

Bruce Philip Blackshaw, Daniel Rodger

Journal of Medical Ethics

 Abstract

Conscientious objection in healthcare has come under heavy criticism on two grounds recently, particularly regarding abortion provision. First, critics claim conscientious objection involves a refusal to provide a legal and beneficial procedure requested by a patient, denying them access to healthcare. Second, they argue the exercise of conscientious objection is based on unverifiable personal beliefs. These characteristics, it is claimed, disqualify conscientious objection in healthcare. Here, we defend conscientious objection in the context of abortion provision. We show that abortion has a dubitable claim to be medically beneficial, is rarely clinically indicated, and that conscientious objections should be accepted in these circumstances. We also show that reliance on personal beliefs is difficult to avoid if any form of objection is to be permitted, even if it is based on criteria such as the principles and values of the profession or the scope of professional practice.


Blackshaw BP, Rodger D. Questionable benefits and unavoidable personal beliefs: defending conscientious objection for abortion. J Medical Ethics 2019 Aug 31. pii: medethics-2019-105566. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2019-105566. [Epub ahead of print]

Débats entourant l’objection de conscience : le cas du don d’organes après l’aide médicale à mourir au Québec

Julie Allard, Marie-Chantal Fortin

Débats entourant l’objection de conscience : le cas du don d’organes après l’aide médicale à mourir au Québec

Résumé

Depuis décembre 2015, l’aide médicale à mourir, une pratique au centre de nombreux débats éthiques, est légalisée dans la province du Québec, au Canada. Ce nouveau type de décès a créé un tout nouveau contexte pour le don d’organes, soit le don d’organes après l’aide médicale à mourir. Le prélèvement des organes s’effectue alors suivant le protocole habituel du don d’organes après décès cardiocirculatoire contrôlé (catégorie Maastricht III), un protocole qui suscitait déjà de nombreux questionnements médico-éthiques. En outre, l’amalgame des deux pratiques soulève de nouveaux enjeux éthiques qui peuvent se traduire par des objections de conscience chez les médecins directement impliqués dans l’aide médicale à mourir et/ou le don d’organes. Or, une telle objection de conscience peut-elle être acceptable ? Nous tenterons de répondre à cette question en trois temps : d’abord, par un bref historique de l’objection de conscience ; ensuite, par une revue des débats actuels sur ce sujet ; enfin, par l’examen, à l’aide de critères recensés dans la littérature, de cas où les médecins refuseraient de participer au don d’organes après l’aide médicale à mourir.

Summary

Medical assistance in dying, a much debated practice in ethical literature, is practiced since 2015 in the province of Québec, Canada. Its practice has opened the door to organ donation after medical assistance in dying. This type of donation is possible through donation after controlled cardiocirculatory death (Maastricht III category), a procedure that also raises many ethical questions. Combining these two practices raises new ethical issues and could therefore generate conscientious objections from physicians directly involved in medical assistance in dying and/or organ donation. Would conscientious objection be acceptable in this context? To answer this question, we present a brief history of conscientious objection, an overview of the actual debates on conscientious objection and we will examine the case of the physician who would object to participate in organ donation after medical assistance in dying using existing criteria.


Allard J, Forin M.-C. Débats entourant l’objection de conscience : le cas du don d’organes après l’aide médicale à mourir au Québec. Éthique & Santé; 2019 Sep; 16(3): 125-132

Physician-Assisted Suicide and the Perils of Empirical Ethical Research

Daniel P. Sulmasy

Journal of the American Medical Association

Al Rabadi et al1 compare statistics on physician-assisted suicide (PAS) available from public databases for the states of Washington and Oregon and find similar profiles and trends, which is unsurprising given the similarity of the laws and demographic characteristics of these states. Among the unanswered questions are what such a study can contribute to medical ethics (about PAS or any other ethical controversy) and what the limits are of such work.

Cautions

First, it should be noted that the medical literature is, in general, favorably disposed toward the empirical and the new. Although this predilection is often advantageous for scientific progress, it introduces a problematic bias when applied to ethical questions. The appeal of the study by Al Rabadi et al1 is that it is empirical, and by comparing data from 2 states for the first time, it can be considered novel. Because there are new reports each year and the practice of PAS is legal in only a few states, descriptive reports about PAS are published frequently. This means, however, that articles defending the ethical status quo (ie, against PAS) tend to be shut out of the medical literature because they are not reporting anything new and, therefore, cannot have any data. The result is an impression of growing acceptance of PAS, but it really represents an artifact of a scientific bias. . . . [Full text]


Sulmasy DP. Physician-Assisted Suicide and the Perils of Empirical Ethical Research. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(8):e198628. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.8628

Survival of Patients With Liver Transplants Donated After Euthanasia, Circulatory Death, or Brain Death at a Single Center in Belgium

Nicholas Gilbo, Ina Jochmans, Daniel Jacobs-Tulleneers-Thevissen, Albert Wolthuis, Mauricio Sainz-Barriga, Jacques Pirenne, Diethard Monbaliu

Journal of the American Medical Association

Abstract

Transplantation of organs donated after euthanasia may help alleviate the critical organ shortage.1 However, aside from preliminary data on lung transplantation,2 data on graft and patient survival following transplantation of organs donated after euthanasia are unavailable. Because donation after euthanasia entails a period of detrimental warm ischemia that hampers graft survival, similar to donation after circulatory death,3 results after transplantation of this type of graft need to be carefully evaluated.


Gilbo N, Jochmans I, Jacobs-Tulleneers-Thevissen D, Wolthuis A, Sainz-Barriga M, Pirenne  J, Monbaliu D.  Survival of Patients With Liver Transplants Donated After Euthanasia, Circulatory Death, or Brain Death at a Single Center in Belgium. JAMA. 2019;322(1):78-80. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.6553