Conscientious Objection, Not Refusal: The Power of a Word

Linacre Q. 2021 Aug;88(3):242-246. doi: 10.1177/00243639211008271. Epub 2021 Apr 19.


Conscientious objection (CO) in medicine grew out of the need to protect healthcare providers who objected to performing abortions after the Roe v. Wade decision in the 1970s which has since over time expanded to include sterilization, contraception, in vitro fertilization, stem cell research, and end-of-life issues. Since 2006, there has been a growing amount of published literature arguing for the denial of CO. Over the last three years, there has also been an increase in calling this conscientious refusal. This article will argue that the term conscientious objection is more accurate than conscientious refusal because those who object are not refusing to provide care. CO also emphasizes that there are reasoned arguments behind one's decision not to perform certain actions because of one's own principles and values.

Summary: How something is presented matters. Objection emphasizes the thought behind the action while refusal gives the impression that medical care is not given.

Keywords: Bioethics; Catholic identity in health care; Conscience in medicine; Conscientious objection; Conscientious refusal; Ethics.