An official American Thoracic Society policy statement: managing conscientious objections in intensive care medicine

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2015 Jan 15;191(2):219-27. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201410-1916ST.


Rationale: 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.

Objectives: To provide clinicians, hospital administrators, and policymakers with recommendations for managing COs in the critical care setting.

Methods: This policy statement was developed by a multidisciplinary expert committee using an iterative process with a diverse working group representing adult medicine, pediatrics, nursing, patient advocacy, bioethics, philosophy, and law.

Main results: 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, and (4) institutions promote open moral dialogue and foster a culture that respects diverse values in the critical care setting.

Conclusions: This American Thoracic Society statement provides guidance for clinicians, hospital administrators, and policymakers to address clinicians' COs in the critical care setting.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Access to Information / ethics*
  • Access to Information / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Bioethical Issues
  • Child
  • Conscience*
  • Disclosure / ethics
  • Disclosure / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Female
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Health Services Accessibility / ethics*
  • Health Services Accessibility / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intensive Care Units / ethics*
  • Intensive Care Units / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organizational Policy
  • Patient Rights / ethics*
  • Patient Rights / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Pregnancy
  • Professional Autonomy*
  • Societies, Medical / ethics
  • United States
  • Workforce