Historically associated with military service, conscientious objection has become a significant phenomenon in health care. Mark Wicclair offers a comprehensive ethical analysis of conscientious objection in three representative health care professions: medicine, nursing and pharmacy. He critically examines two extreme positions: the 'incompatibility thesis', that it is contrary to the professional obligations of practitioners to refuse provision of any service within the scope of their professional competence; and 'conscience absolutism', that they should be exempted from performing any action contrary to (...) their conscience. He argues for a compromise approach that accommodates conscience-based refusals within the limits of specified ethical constraints. He also explores conscientious objection by students in each of the three professions, discusses conscience protection legislation and conscience-based refusals by pharmacies and hospitals, and analyzes several cases. His book is a valuable resource for scholars, professionals, trainees, students, and anyone interested in this increasingly important aspect of health care. (shrink)
Typically, a refusal to provide a medical service is an instance of conscientious objection only when the medical service is legal, professionally accepted, and clinically appropriate. That is, conscientious objection typically occurs only when practitioners reject prevailing norms or practices. Insofar as refusing to provide antibiotics for a viral infection does not violate prevailing clinical norms, there is no need for the physician in Case 1 to justify his refusal to provide antibiotics by appealing to his conscience.1 By contrast, insofar (...) as emergency contraception is legal and does not violate prevailing norms of good medical practice, the physician in Case 6 cannot justify his refusal to provide EC by... (shrink)
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. (shrink)
It is argued that the primary aim of institutional management is to protect the moral integrity of health professionals without significantly compromising other important values and interests. Institutional policies are recommended as a means to promote fair, consistent, and transparent management of conscience-based refusals. It is further recommended that those policies include the following four requirements: (1) Conscience-based refusals will be accommodated only if a requested accommodation will not impede a patient’s/surrogate’s timely access to information, counseling, and referral. (2) Conscience-based (...) refusals will be accommodated only if a requested accommodation will not impede a patient’s timely access to health care services offered within the institution. (3) Conscience-based refusals will be accommodated only if the accommodation will not impose excessive burdens on colleagues, supervisors, department heads, other administrators, or the institution. (4) Whenever feasible, health professionals should provide advance notification to department heads or supervisors. Formal review may not be required in all cases, but when it is appropriate, several recommendations are offered about standards and the review process. A key recommendation is that when reviewing an objector’s reasons, contrary to what some have proposed, it is not appropriate to adopt an adversarial approach modelled on military review boards’ assessments of requests for conscientious objector status. According to the approach recommended, the primary function of reviews of objectors’ reasons is to engage them in a process of reflecting on the nature and depth of their objections, with the objective of facilitating moral clarity on the part of objectors rather than enabling department heads, supervisors, or ethics committees to determine whether conscientious objections are sufficiently genuine. (shrink)
Discussions of appeals to conscience by healthcare professionals typically focus on situations in which they object to providing a legal and professionally permitted service, such as abortion, sterilization, prescribing or dispensing emergency contraception, and organ retrieval pursuant to donation after cardiac death. “Negative claims of conscience” will designate such appeals to conscience. When healthcare professionals advance a negative claim of conscience, they do so to secure an exemption from ethical, professional, institutional, and/or legal obligations or requirements to provide a healthcare (...) service. (shrink)
A US Department of Health and Human Services Final Rule, Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care, and a proposed bill in the British House of Lords, the Conscientious Objection Bill, may well warrant a concern that—to borrow a phrase Daniel Callahan applied to self-determination—conscientious objection in health care has “run amok.” Insofar as there are no significant constraints or limitations on accommodation, both rules endorse an approach that is aptly designated “conscience absolutism.” There are two common strategies to counter (...) conscience absolutism and prevent conscientious objection in medicine from running amok. One, non-toleration, is to decline to accommodate physicians who refuse to provide legal, professionally accepted, clinically appropriate medical services within the scope of their clinical competence. The other, compromise or reasonable accommodation, is to impose constraints on accommodation. Several arguments for non-toleration are critically analyzed, and I argue that none warrants its acceptance. I maintain that non-toleration is an excessively blunt instrument to prevent conscientious objection in medicine from running amok. Instead, I defend a more nuanced contextual approach that includes constraints on accommodation. (shrink)
: This paper examines the obligations of pharmacy licensees and pharmacists in the context of conscience-based objections to filling lawful prescriptions for certain types of medications—e.g., standard and emergency contraceptives. Claims of conscience are analyzed as means to preserve or maintain an individual's moral integrity. It is argued that pharmacy licensees have an obligation to dispense prescription medications that satisfy the health needs of the populations they serve, and this obligation can override claims of conscience. Although efforts should be made (...) to respect the moral integrity of pharmacists and accommodate their claims of conscience, it is argued that the health needs of patients and the professional obligations of pharmacists limit the extent to which pharmacists may refuse to assist patients who have lawful prescriptions for medically indicated drugs. (shrink)
In a provocative 1974 article entitled “Harvesting the Dead,” Willard Gaylin explored potential uses of “neomorts,” or what are currently referred to as “heart-beating cadavers”—that is, humans determined to be dead by neurological criteria and whose cardiopulmonary function is medically maintained by ventilators, vasopressors, and so forth. Medical research was one of the potential uses Gaylin identified. He pointed out that tests of drugs and medical procedures that would have unacceptable health risks if performed on living human subjects could be (...) performed on neomorts without any health risks. According to Gaylin, the potential benefits of such research could be enormous, including not subjecting patients to ineffective or harmful medical procedures and eliminating delays in providing effective therapies to dying patients. (shrink)
: This paper examines informed consent in relation to research involving the newly dead. Reasons are presented for facilitating advance decision making in relation to postmortem research, and it is argued that the informed consent of family members should be sought when the deceased have not made a premortem decision. Regardless of whether the dead can be harmed, there are two important respects in which family consent can serve to protect the dead: (1) protecting the deceased's body from being used (...) for research that is incompatible with the person's premortem preferences and values and (2) protecting the deceased's body from being subject to disrespectful treatment. These claims are explained and justified, and several objections are critically examined. Additional reasons for securing family consent are presented including to protect them from additional emotional distress, to respect their wishes about wanting to have a say, and to maintain public trust in the medical profession and medical research. The paper also examines the scope of disclosure in relation to postmortem research. (shrink)
Just as physicians can object to providing services due to their ethical and/or religious beliefs, medical students can have conscience-based objections to participating in educational activities. In 1996, the Medical Student Section of the American Medical Association introduced a resolution calling on the AMA to adopt a policy in support of exemptions for students with ethical or religious objections. In that report, students identified abortion, sterilization, and procedures performed on animals as examples of activities that might prompt requests for conscience-based (...) exemptions. In response to the student initiative, the Council on Medical Education recommended the adoption of seven “principles to guide exemption of medical students from activities based on conscience.” The House of Delegates adopted these principles in their entirety. (shrink)
: Research involving the dead, especially heart-beating cadavers, may facilitate the testing of potentially revolutionary and life-saving medical treatments. However, to ensure that such research is conducted ethically, it is essential to: (1) identify appropriate standards for this research and (2) assign institutional responsibility and a mechanism for oversight. Protocols for research involving the dead should be reviewed by a special committee and assessed according to nine standards intended to ensure scientific merit, to protect deceased patients and their families, and (...) to promote institutional integrity and responsibility. Federal regulation of research involving the dead will foster appropriate standards and, equally importantly, help establish the acceptability of such research. (shrink)
This paper describes the first three-year experience of the Consortium Ethics Program (CEP-1) of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical Ethics, and also outlines plans for the second three-year phase (CEP-2) of this experiment in continuing ethics education. In existence since 1990, the CEP has the primary goal of creating a cost-effective, permanent ethics resource network, by utilizing the educational resources of a university bioethics center and the practical expertise of a regional hospital council. The CEP's conception and specific (...) components stem from recognition of the need to make each hospital a major focus of educational efforts, and to provide academic support for the in-house activities of the representatives from each institution. (shrink)
Hospitals sometimes refuse to provide goods and services or honor patients’ decisions to forgo life-sustaining treatment for reasons that appear to resemble appeals to conscience. For example, based on the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services , Catholic hospitals have refused to forgo medically provided nutrition and hydration , and Catholic hospitals have refused to provide emergency contraception and perform abortions or sterilization procedures. I consider whether it is justified to refuse to offer EC to victims of (...) sexual assault who present at the emergency department . A preliminary question, however, is whether a hospital’s refusal to provide services can be conceptualized as conscience based. (shrink)
This special issue of HEC Forum includes articles on a wide range of specific topics that make significant contributions to conscientious objection scholarship. In this commentary, it is not feasible to provide a comprehensive analysis of each of the articles; and I have not attempted to do so. Instead, for each article, I have selected specific issues and arguments on which to comment.
Death in the Clinic fills a gap in contemporary medical education by explicitly addressing the concrete clinical realities about death with which practitioners, patients, and their families continue to wrestle. Visit our website for sample chapters!