Is conscientious objection incompatible with a physician's professional obligations?

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 29 (3):171--185 (2008)
In response to physicians who refuse to provide medical services that are contrary to their ethical and/or religious beliefs, it is sometimes asserted that anyone who is not willing to provide legally and professionally permitted medical services should choose another profession. This article critically examines the underlying assumption that conscientious objection is incompatible with a physician’s professional obligations (the “incompatibility thesis”). Several accounts of the professional obligations of physicians are explored: general ethical theories (consequentialism, contractarianism, and rights-based theories), internal morality (essentialist and non-essentialist conceptions), reciprocal justice, social contract, and promising. It is argued that none of these accounts of a physician’s professional obligations unequivocally supports the incompatibility thesis.
Keywords Conscience  Conscientious objection  Doctor–patient relationship  Professional obligations  Ethics
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