(June 2018) Conscientious objection: a morally insupportable misuse of authority

Arianne Shahvisi
June 1, 2018
Volume: 13 issue: 2, page(s): 82-87


In this paper, I argue that the conscience clause around abortion provision in England, Scotland and Wales is inadequate for two reasons. First, the patient and doctor are differently situated with respect to social power. Doctors occupy a position of significant moral and epistemic authority with respect to their patients, who are vulnerable and relatively disempowered. Doctors are rightly required to disclose their conscientious objection, but given the positioning of the patient and doctor, the act of doing so exploits the authority of the medical establishment in asserting the legitimacy of a particular moral view. Second, the conscientious objector plays an unusual and self-defeating moral role. Since she must immediately refer the patient on to another doctor who does not hold a conscientious objection, she becomes complicit, via her necessary causal role, in the implementation of the procedure. This means that doctors are not able to prevent abortions, rather, they are required to ensure that they are carried out, albeit by others. Since removing the disclosure and referral requirements may prevent patients from accessing standard medical care, the conscience clause should instead be revoked, and those opposed to abortion should be encouraged to select other specialities or professions. This would protect patients from judgement, and doctors from complicity.

Source: Sage Journals