Susanna Mancini and Michel Rosenfeld (eds). The Conscience Wars: Rethinking the Balance between Religion, Identity, and Equality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018, pp. 493. ISBN: 978-1107173309
Extract 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. . .
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.
Abstract Although some healthcare professionals have the legal right to conscientiously object to authorise or perform certain lawful medical services, they have an associated duty to provide the patient with enough information to seek out another professional willing to authorise or provide the service (the ‘duty to refer’). Does the duty to refer morally undermine the professional’s conscientious objection (CO)? I narrow my discussion to the National Health Service in Britain, and the case of a general practitioner (GP) being asked by a pregnant woman to authorise an abortion. I will be careful not to enter the debate about whether abortion should be legalised, or the debate about whether CO should be permitted—I will take both as given. I defend the objecting GP’s duty to refer against those I call the ‘conscience absolutists’, who would claim that if a state is serious enough in permitting the GP’s objection in the first place (as is the UK), then it has to recognise the right to withhold any information about abortion.
Abstract In a recent (2015) Bioethics editorial, Udo Schuklenk argues against allowing Canadian doctors to conscientiously object to any new euthanasia procedures approved by Parliament. In this he follows Julian Savulescu’s 2006 BMJ paper which argued for the removal of the conscientious objection clause in the 1967 UK Abortion Act. Both authors advance powerful arguments based on the need for uniformity of service and on analogies with reprehensible kinds of personal exemption. In this article I want to defend the practice of conscientious objection in publicly-funded healthcare systems (such as those of Canada and the UK), at least in the area of abortion and end-of-life care, without entering either of the substantive moral debates about the permissibility of either. My main claim is that Schuklenk and Savulescu have misunderstood the special nature of medicine, and have misunderstood the motivations of the conscientious objectors. However, I acknowledge Schuklenk’s point about differential access to lawful services in remote rural areas, and I argue that the health service should expend more to protect conscientious objection while ensuring universal access.
Extract Cowley has recently objected to the idea of using a medical tribunal to make determinations regarding conscientious objections and has criticised using reasonability as a standard for any such tribunal. . . . I argue that Cowley’s discussion sells the idea of medical tribunals short and illustrates serious misunderstandings regarding how the reasonability standard should be deployed in practice.
Abstract There seem to be two clearly-defined camps in the debate over the problem of moral expertise. On the one hand are the “Professionals”, who reject the possibility entirely, usually because of the intractable diversity of ethical beliefs. On the other hand are the “Ethicists”, who criticise the Professionals for merely stipulating science as the most appropriate paradigm for discussions of expertise. While the subject matter and methodology of good ethical thinking is certainly different from that of good clinical thinking, they argue, this is no reason for rejecting the possibility of a distinctive kind of expertise in ethics, usually based on the idea of good justification. I want to argue that both are incorrect, partly because of the reasons given by one group against the other, but more importantly because both neglect what is most distinctive about ethics: that it is personal in a very specific way, without collapsing into relativism.