The Growing Abuse of Conscientious Objection

Rebecca J. Cook, JD, JSD, and Bernard M. Dickens, LLB, LLM, PhD, LLD
Virtual Mentor. May 2006, Volume 8, Number 5: 337-340

Physicians’ rights to refuse to participate in medical procedures that offend their conscience may be incompatible with patients’ rights to receive lawful, medically indicated treatment. Historically, the goal of medicine has been to provide care to the sick. The World Medical Association’s modern variant of the Hippocratic Oath, The Declaration of Geneva, inspires the graduating physician to pledge that, “The health of my patient will be my first consideration” [1]. For many who enter medicine, the commitment to assist their fellow human beings and pursue a path of personal salvation through this professional calling is religiously inspired. A conflict of interest can arise if the physician’s religious or other conscientious convictions are in tension with medically indicated procedures. The obvious case is therapeutic abortion, but analogous cases include contraceptive sterilization and withdrawal of life support from otherwise viable patients. Physicians who give priority to their own moral and spiritual convictions over their patients’ need and desire for medically indicated care face a conflict that needs resolution [2].

Read full article: AMA Journal of Ethics