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How to Allow Conscientious Objection in Medicine While Protecting Patient Rights


Paradigmatic cases of conscientious objection in medicine are those in which a physician refuses to provide a medical service or good because doing so would conflict with that physician’s personal moral or religious beliefs. Should such refusals be allowed in medicine? We argue that (1) many conscientious objections to providing certain services must be allowed because they fall within the range of freedom that physicians have to determine which services to offer in their practices; (2) at least some conscientious objections to serving particular groups of patients should be allowed because they are not invidiously discriminatory; and (3) even in cases of invidiously discriminatory conscientious objections, legally prohibiting individual physicians from refusing to serve patients on the basis of such objections is not always the best solution.

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2. Wicclair, MR. Conscientious Objection in Health Care: An Ethical Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2011.

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4. See note 3, Savulescu 2006, at 295.

5. See note 3, Savulescu 2006, at 294.

6. See note 3, Savulescu 2006, at 294.

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We thank the organizers and participants of the Conscience and Conscientious Objection in Healthcare conference at Oxford Martin School for their many helpful questions and comments on an earlier version of this article. This article also benefited greatly from detailed written comments provided by Katrien Devolder and Angela Ballantyne. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong is grateful to the Oxford Martin School for support.

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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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