Speak No Evil? Conscience and the Duty to Inform, Refer or Transfer Care

HEC Forum 26 (3):257-266 (2014)
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This paper argues that the type of conscience claims made in last decade’s spate of cases involving pharmacists’ objections to filling birth control prescriptions and cases such as Ms. Means and Mercy Health Partners of Michigan, and even the Affordable Care Act and the Little Sisters of the Poor, as different as they appear to be from each other, share a common element that ties them together and makes them fundamentally different in kind from traditional claims of conscience about which a practical consensus emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. This difference in kind is profoundly significant; so much so, we contend, that it puts them at odds with the normative basis for protecting conscience claims in United States health care settings in the first place, making them illegitimate. Finally, we argue that, given the illegitimacy of these contemporary claims of conscience, physicians and other health professionals must honor their well-established standing obligations to provide informed consent and refer or transfer care even if the service requested or needed is at odds with their own core moral beliefs—a requirement that is in line with the aforementioned practical consensus on traditional claims of conscience



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