Conscience and Compromise : Abortion and the Requirements of Justice in Medical Schools

Kevin Belgrave

McGill Journal of Medicine
McGill Journal of Medicine

The concerns of students opposed to abortion go well beyond simple personal preference, opinion, or even political leaning. Opposition to abortion rests firmly in the realm of one’s most fundamental beliefs and convictions about human life, human dignity and human rights. Together with this fact is the freedom of an individual to hold and manifest such fundamental beliefs and convictions and not be discriminated against as a result. It is well known that neither physicians, medical students, nor residents could ever be compelled to perform or observe abortions against their will. In this article, however, we have considered the closely related question: is it possible to require medical students to learn in detail the methods and procedures of a medical act that conflicts with their most fundamental beliefs and convictions? The answer has to be no. So long as the bona fide beliefs of an individual – explicitly grounded in conscience or religion – can be reasonably accommodated, they must be. We must respect this basic requirement of freedom in our community. Given the nature of the belief that underlies objection to abortion, it is not difficult to see how thin would be the line between performing an abortion and learning learning the procedure in all the detail required of a physician.

Belgrave K. Conscience and Compromise : Abortion and the Requirements of Justice in Medical Schools. McGill J Med. 2001;8(2):154-156.