In June of this year, a group of ethicists—should I say that I use that term loosely?—issued a “consensus statement” to guide legislation and institutional policy regarding conscientious objection in medicine. Conscientious objection, they explained, “is the refusal to provide a certain medical service, for example an abortion or medical assistance in dying, because it conflicts with the practitioner’s moral views.” Their words, not mine.
They went on to aver that the general medical principle that the care of the patient is paramount, taking priority over the practitioner’s “moral or religious views.” Not that the practitioner must efface his or her self-interest for the sake of the patient’s best interest, pace Dr. Pellegrino, but that moral arguments must take a back seat to “a patient’s desire for a legal, professionally sanctioned medical service.” So, in other words, if the law and the powers that be determine that something is permitted within the bounds of medical practice, all practitioners must submit to that. If they object to, for example, participating in euthanasia when the legislature has deemed this permissible, they must state their reasons—including going before a “tribunal,” if necessary—and refer for the service or perform it themselves if no referral is available. Punishments are in order: “Healthcare practitioners who are exempted from performing certain medical procedures on conscientious grounds should be required to compensate society and the health system for their failure to fulfill their professional obligations by providing public-benefitting services.” I’m not sure whether “by providing public-benefitting services” is intended to modify “compensate” here—that is, the punishment should be community service of some unspecified sort—or to modify “obligations”—that is, construing doctor-assisted suicide and abortion as primary public goods and medical duties.
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.