Bioethics Blogs

Managing Conscientious Objections in Intensive Care Medicine

I was delighted to be a part of this ad hoc subcommittee of this American Thoracic Society Ethics and Conflict of Interest Committee that developed An Official Policy Statement: “Managing Conscientious Objections in Intensive Care Medicine.”  It was just published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 191(2): 219–227.

“Intensive care unit (ICU) clinicians sometimes have a conscientious objection (CO) to providing or disclosing information about a legal, professionally accepted, and otherwise available medical service. There is little guidance about how to manage COs in ICUs.”

“The policy recommendations are based on the dual goals of protecting patients’ access to medical services and protecting the moral integrity of clinicians. Conceptually, accommodating COs should be considered a “shield” to protect individual clinicians’ moral integrity rather than as a “sword” to impose clinicians’ judgments on patients.”


“The committee recommends that: 

  1. COs in ICUs be managed through institutional mechanisms
  2. Institutions accommodate COs,  provided doing so will not impede a patient’s or surrogate’s timely access to medical services or information or create excessive hardships for other clinicians or the institution
  3. A clinician’s CO to providing potentially inappropriate or futile medical services should not be considered sufficient justification to forgo the treatment against the objections of the patient or surrogate
  4. Institutions promote open moral dialogue and foster a culture that respects diverse values in the critical care setting.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.