Bioethics News

Are tribunals the solution to disruptive conscientious objectors?

While some bioethicists believe that conscientious objection has no place in modern medicine, others feel that they could be accommodated by setting up tribunals. Here are three proposed this year in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Establish military-style tribunals. In times of conscription, military tribunals assess whether a pleas of conscientious objection in legitimate or not. Why not follow this model for healthcare workers, asks Steve Clarke, of Charles Sturt University (Australia), in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Military tribunals used to ask whether the objector would serve in a non-combatant role. Some agreed to support the war effort by serving in non-combatant roles; others would only perform community service. The former were actually making an indirect causal contribution to the war effort to which they objected. Clarke believes that the same question should be asked of doctors:

“A doctor who objects to conducting abortions, and also objects to making an indirect causal contribution to abortion, but who currently works for an organisation in which abortions are conducted, should be helped to find work with a different organisation, where abortions are not conducted. The objections of a doctor who conscientiously refuses to conduct abortions, but who has no objection to making an indirect causal contribution to the conduct of abortion are best dealt with by finding that doctor other duties to perform, within the current organisation that she is employed in.”

This argument will succeed in forcing objectors with very strong convictions out of the public system and into private practice and those who remain and perform “non-combatant” roles will be burdened with moral complicity.

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.