Panel 3: Theological and Religious Perspectives on Conscience
Royal Irish Academy Symposium
Mary McAleese, MRIA, Professor of Children, Law and Religion, University of Glasgow
Professor Linda Hogan, Trinity College Dublin
Professor David Albert Jones, The Anscombe Bioethics Centre
Professor David Novak, University of Toronto
Religious and theological conceptions of conscience; role of conscientious objection within faith traditions; freedom of religion, freedom within religion. Resistance motivated by faith and conscience: military service, health care.
Abstract: The aim of this article is to present an account of an important element of medical ethics and law which is widely cited but is often confused. This element is most frequently referred to as ‘the principle of the sanctity of life’, and it is often assumed that this language has a religious provenance. However, the phrase is neither rooted in the traditions it purports to represent nor is it used consistently in contemporary discourse. Understood as the name of an established ‘principle’ the ‘sanctity of life’ is virtually an invention of the late twentieth century. The language came to prominence as the label of a position that was being rejected: it is the name of a caricature. Hence there is no locus classicus for a definition of the terms and different authors freely apply the phrase to divergent and contradictory positions. Appeal to this ‘principle’ thus serves only to perpetuate confusion. This language is best jettisoned in favour of clearer and more traditional ethical concepts.