Accommodating conscience in medicine

Roger Trigg

Journal of Medical Ethics

The issue of conscientious objection to agreed public policy is a vexed one. The clearest example is that of conscientious objection to military service. A free and democratic society has to respect the consciences of those who believe that killing in battle is absolutely wrong. Many disagree with the moral stance being taken, but it has been seen as the mark of a mature and civilised society to respect the conscience of pacifists. The freedom to be able to live by what one thinks most important has been seen as a constituent element in the freedoms that others have fought to preserve.

Respect for the conscience of those medical professionals who feel unable to participate in abortion appears to be in the same category (as would be respect for those who refused to participate in assisted suicide or euthanasia). Issues about the value of human life are at stake. Matters are undoubtedly complicated in the case of abortion by arguments over the supposed ‘humanity’ or ‘personhood’ of a fetus. Even so, some sincerely regard abortion as murder. Mutual respect is easy between people who agree. The problem in a democratic society arises when there is significant disagreement, but it is …


Trigg R. Accommodating conscience in medicine. J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101892 Commentary

Equality, Freedom & Religion

New book documents erosion of religious freedom

Equality, Freedom & Religion

Trigg R. Equality, Freedom & Religion. Oxford: University Press; 2012 Jan 13. 224 p. ISBN: 9780199576852.

Is religious freedom being curtailed in pursuit of equality, and the outlawing of discrimination? Is enough effort made to accommodate those motivated by a religious conscience? All rights matter but at times the right to put religious beliefs into practice increasingly takes second place in the law of different countries to the pursuit of other social priorities. The right to freedom of belief and to manifest belief is written into all human rights charters. In the United States religious freedom is sometimes seen as ‘the first freedom’. Yet increasingly in many jurisdictions in Europe and North America, religious freedom can all too easily be ‘trumped’ by other rights.

Roger Trigg looks at the assumptions that lie behind the subordination of religious liberty to other social concerns, especially the pursuit of equality. He gives examples from different Western countries of a steady erosion of freedom of religion. The protection of freedom of worship is often seen as sufficient, and religious practices are separated from the beliefs which inspire them. So far from religion in general, and Christianity in particular, providing a foundation for our beliefs in human dignity and human rights, religion is all too often seen as threat and a source of conflict, to be controlled at all costs. The challenge is whether any freedom can preserved for long, if the basic human right to freedom of religious belief and practice is dismissed as of little account, with no attempt to provide any reasonable accommodation. Given the central role of religion in human life, unnecessary limitations on its expression are attacks on human freedom itself.