Conscientious refusal and health professionals: does religion make a difference?

Bioethics. 2014 Jan;28(1):8-15. doi: 10.1111/bioe.12059. Epub 2013 Sep 30.


Freedom of Conscience and Freedom of Religion should be taken to protect two distinct sets of moral considerations. The former protects the ability of the agent to reflect critically upon the moral and political issues that arise in her society generally, and in her professional life more specifically. The latter protects the individual's ability to achieve secure membership in a set of practices and rituals that have as a moral function to inscribe her life in a temporally extended narrative. Once these grounds are distinguished, it becomes more difficult to grant healthcare professionals' claims to religious exemptions on the basis of the latter than it is on the basis of the former. While both sets of considerations generate 'internal reasons' for rights to accommodation, the relevant 'external' reasons present in the case of claims of moral conscience do not possess analogues in the case of claims of religious conscience. However, the argument applies only to 'irreducibly religious' claims, that is to claims that cannot be translated into moral vocabulary. What's more, there may be reasons to grant the claims of religious persons to exemptions that have to do not with the nature of the claims, but with the beneficial effects that the presence of religious persons may have in the context of the healthcare institutions of multi-faith societies.

Keywords: conscientious refusal; reasonable accommodation; religion.

MeSH terms

  • Bioethical Issues*
  • Conscience*
  • Dissent and Disputes
  • Ethics, Clinical*
  • Health Personnel / ethics*
  • Human Rights*
  • Humans
  • Refusal to Treat*
  • Religion and Medicine*