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Conscientious Objection and “Effective Referral”


Complicity in an immoral, and even criminal, activity, such as robbery or murder, is itself regarded as involving responsibility for those acts. What should the position be of health professionals who are expected to participate in actions that they believe are morally wrong? Professional responsibilities may clash with private conscience. Even referring a patient to someone else, when what is in question may be assisted suicide, or euthanasia, seems to involve some complicity. This is a live issue in Canada, but similar dilemmas occur elsewhere. Physicians and others should not be coerced into involvement of any kind in what they regard as wrong. Such coercion goes against the very principles of liberal democracy. Conscience matters. Reasonable accommodation should be given to those whose moral judgment may be at variance with prevailing professional norms. Moral questions should still be given weight within medicine, and disagreements respected. Dedication to the promotion of human welfare should be paramount, but it should be recognized that there may be different visions of what such welfare consists of.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

R Huxtable , A Mullock . Voices of discontent? Conscience, compromise and assisted dying. Medical Law Review 2015;23;242–63.

R Trigg . Morality Matters. Oxford: Blackwell;2005.

D Weinstock . Conscientious refusal and professionals: Does religion make a difference? Bioethics 2014;28:815.

A Heino , M Gissler , D Apter , C Fiala . Conscientious objection and induced abortion in Europe. The European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care 2013;18(4):231–3.

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Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
  • ISSN: 0963-1801
  • EISSN: 1469-2147
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-quarterly-of-healthcare-ethics
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