Is there no alternative? Conscientious objection by medical students

Journal of Medical Ethics 38 (10):602-604 (2012)
Abstract
Recent survey data gathered from British medical students reveal widespread acceptance of conscientious objection in medicine, despite the existence of strict policies in the UK that discourage conscientious refusals by students to aspects of their medical training. This disconnect demonstrates a pressing need to thoughtfully examine policies that allow conscience objections by medical students; as it so happens, the USA is one country that has examples of such policies. After presenting some background on promulgated US conscience protections and reflecting on their significance for conscience objections by medical students, this paper observes that the dominant approach (following the American Medical Association's conscience clause) is to allow exempted students to instead be evaluated on the basis of alternative curricular activities to learn the associated underlying content. This paper then introduces and discusses an example in which male Muslim students who believe it is wrong to touch members of the opposite sex object to performing physical examinations on female subjects in their medical training. This sort of case, it is argued, causes difficulty for a conscience clause that resolves the dilemma by granting reasonable exemptions in the form of participation in alternative curricular activities: there are cases where one must perform the ‘objectionable’ activity itself in order to learn the necessary content and underlying principles
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