Conscientious objection to intentional killing: an argument for toleration

BMC Medical Ethics 19 (1):82 (2018)
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In the debate on conscientious objection in healthcare, proponents of conscience rights often point to the imperative to protect the health professional’s moral integrity. Their opponents hold that the moral integrity argument alone can at most justify accommodation of conscientious objectors as a “moral courtesy”, as the argument is insufficient to establish a general moral right to accommodation, let alone a legal right. This text draws on political philosophy in order to argue for a legal right to accommodation. The moral integrity arguments should be supplemented by the requirement to protect minority rights in liberal democracies. Citizens have a right to live in accordance with their fundamental moral convictions, and a right to equal access to employment. However, this right should not be unconditional, as that would unduly infringe on the rights of other citizens. The right must be limited to cases where the moral basis is more fundamental in a sense that all reasonable citizens in a liberal democracy should accept, such as the constitutive role of the inviolability of human life in liberal democracies. There should be a legal, yet circumscribed, right to accommodation for conscientious objectors refusing to provide healthcare services that they reasonably consider to involve the intentional killing of a human being.



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