Conscientious objection in medicine: accommodation versus professionalism and the public good

Br Med Bull. 2018 Jun 1;126(1):47-56. doi: 10.1093/bmb/ldy007.


Introduction: In recent years questions have arisen about the moral justification for the accommodation of health care professionals who refuse, on conscience grounds as opposed to professional grounds, to provide particular professional services to eligible patients who request that kind of service.

Source of data: Literature review.

Areas of disagreement: Central to concerns about the accommodation claims of conscientious objectors is that health care professionals volunteer to join their professions that typically they are the monopoly providers of such services and that a health care professional's refusal to provide professional services on grounds that are not professional judgements amounts to unprofessional conduct. Defenders of conscientious objection maintain that in a liberal society respect for a professional's conscience is of sufficient importance that conscientious objectors ought to be accommodated. To deny conscientious objectors accommodation would reduce diversity in the health care professions, it would deny objectors unfairly equality of opportunity, and it would constitute a serious threat to the moral integrity of conscientious objectors.

Growing points: The legal literature on the subject is growing due to the impossibility of satisfactory compromises.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Conscience
  • Health Personnel / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Politics
  • Professional Practice / ethics*
  • Professionalism*
  • Social Responsibility*