HEC Forum 33 (3):215-232 (2021)

Dana Howard
Ohio State University
Those arguing that conscientious objection in medicine should be declared unethical by professional societies face the following challenge: conscientious objection can function as an important reforming mechanism when it involves health care workers refusing to participate in certain medical interventions deemed standard of care and legally sanctioned but which undermine patients’ rights. In such cases, the argument goes, far from being unethical, conscientious objection may actually be a professional duty. I examine this sort of challenge and ultimately argue that these acts of conscience done in the interest of reforming professional norms or medical regulations are best understood as episodes of civil disobedience rather than episodes of conscientious objection. In contrast to the private, exempting nature of conscientious objection, civil disobedience is a public breach of a norm or law undertaken with the aim of bringing about a change in governmental policies or professional standards. Consequently, clinicians may have a duty to engage in civil disobedience even while professional societies are right to declare limitations on the ethical appropriateness of conscientious objection.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s10730-020-09417-5
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Translate to english
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 64,178
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

What is the Point of Equality.Elizabeth Anderson - 1999 - Ethics 109 (2):287-337.
What is Conscience and Why is Respect for It so Important?Daniel P. Sulmasy - 2008 - Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 29 (3):135-149.

View all 14 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Considerations of Conscience.Bryan Pilkington - 2021 - HEC Forum 33 (3):165-174.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Civil Disobedience and Conscientious Objection.Maeve Cooke & Danielle Petherbridge - 2016 - Philosophy and Social Criticism 42 (10):953-957.
False Convictions and True Conscience.Candice Delmas - 2015 - Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 35 (2):403-425.
Why Liberal States Must Accommodate Tax Resistors.Jason Brennan - forthcoming - Public Affairs Quarterly.
Introduction: Law and Disobedience.Peter Jones - 2004 - Res Publica 10 (4):319-336.
Objective Reasons for Conscientious Objection in Health Care.Joseph Meaney, Marina Casini & Antonio G. Spagnolo - 2012 - The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 12 (4):611-620.
Conscientious Objection by Health Care Professionals.Gry Wester - 2015 - Philosophy Compass 10 (7):427-437.
Conscientious Objection and Systemic Injustice.Michal Pruski - 2020 - Clinical Ethics (3):147775092090345.


Added to PP index

Total views
12 ( #788,859 of 2,455,063 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
5 ( #143,406 of 2,455,063 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes