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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude
Periodicals & Papers


Bernat JL.  Whither Brain Death? The American Journal of Bioethics, 14:8, 3-8, (2014) DOI:10.1080/15265161.2014.925153

  • The publicity surrounding the recent McMath and Muñoz cases has rekindled public interest in brain death: the familiar term for human death determination by showing the irreversible cessation of clinical brain functions. The concept of brain death was developed decades ago to permit withdrawal of therapy in hopeless cases and to permit organ donation. It has become widely established medical practice, and laws permit it in all U.S. jurisdictions. Brain death has a biophilosophical justification as a standard for determining human death but remains poorly understood by the public and by health professionals. The current controversies over brain death are largely restricted to the academy, but some practitioners express ambivalence over whether brain death is equivalent to human death. Brain death remains an accepted and sound concept, but more work is necessary to establish its biophilosophical justification and to educate health professionals and the public.

Cohen IG, Fernandez Lynch H, Curfman GD. Perspective: When Religious Freedom Clashes with Access to Care.  N Engl J Med 2014; 371:596-599 August 14, 2014 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1407965

  • At the tail end of this year's Supreme Court term, religious freedom came into sharp conflict with the government's interest in providing affordable access to health care. In a consolidated opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell (collectively known as Hobby Lobby) delivered on June 30, the Court sided with religious freedom, highlighting the limitations of our employment-based health insurance system.

Foster C.  Dignity and the Ownership and Use of Body Parts.  Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics / Volume 23 / Issue 04 / October 2014, pp 417-430

  • Abstract: Property-based models of the ownership of body parts are common. They are inadequate. They fail to deal satisfactorily with many important problems, and even when they do work, they rely on ideas that have to be derived from deeper, usually unacknowledged principles. This article proposes that the parent principle is always human dignity, and that one will get more satisfactory answers if one interrogates the older, wiser parent instead of the younger, callow offspring. But human dignity has a credibility problem. It is often seen as hopelessly amorphous or incurably theological. These accusations are often just. But a more thorough exegesis exculpates dignity and gives it its proper place at the fountainhead of bioethics. Dignity is objective human thriving. Thriving considerations can and should be applied to dead people as well as live ones. To use dignity properly, the unit of bioethical analysis needs to be the whole transaction rather than (for instance) the doctor-patient relationship. The dignity interests of all the stakeholders are assessed in a sort of utilitarianism. Its use in relation to body part ownership is demonstrated. Article 8(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights endorses and mandates this approach.

Glauser W. Controversy over doctors' right to say "no": The most controversial issues relate to abortion referrals or prescribing birth control.  CMAJ September 16, 2014 186:E483-E484; published ahead of print August 18, 2014

  • Religious groups, doctor's organizations, ethicists and abortion rights advocates are raising concerns around the review of an Ontario policy that outlines, among other things, physicians' right to object to patients' requests for services on moral grounds.

Harter TD.  Toward accommodating physicians’ conscientious objections: an argument for public disclosure.  J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101731

  • Abstract:   This paper aims to demonstrate how public disclosure can be used to balance physicians' conscientious objections with their professional obligations to patients – specifically respect for patient autonomy and informed consent. It is argued here that physicians should be permitted to exercise conscientious objections, but that they have a professional obligation to provide advance notification to patients about those objections. It is further argued here that public disclosure is an appropriate and ethically justifiable limit to the principle of advance notification. The argument for publicly disclosing physicians' conscientious objections is made in this paper by discussing three practical benefits of public disclosure in medicine, and then addressing how publicly disclosing physicians' conscientious objections is not an undue invasion of privacy. Three additional concerns with public disclosure of physicians' conscientious objections are briefly addressed – potential harassment of physicians, workplace discrimination, and mischaracterising physicians' professional aptitude – concluding that each of these concerns requires further deliberation in the realm of business ethics.

Juth N, Lynöe N.  Zero tolerance against patriarchal norms? A cross-sectional study of Swedish physicians’ attitudes towards young females requesting virginity certificates or hymen restoration.  J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101675

  • Abstract: Many countries, Sweden among them, lack professional guidelines and established procedures for responding to young females requesting virginity certificates or hymen restoration due to honour-related threats. The purpose of the present survey study was to further examine the attitudes of the Swedish healthcare professionals concerned towards young females requesting virginity certificates or hymen restorations. The study indicates that a small majority of Swedish general practitioners and gynaecologists would accommodate these patients, at least given certain circumstances. But a large minority of physicians would under no circumstances help the young females, regardless of speciality, years of practice within medicine, gender, or experience of the phenomenon. Their responses are similar to other areas where it has been claimed that society should adopt a zero tolerance policy against certain phenomena, for instance drug policy, where it has also been argued that society should never act in ways that express support for the practice in question. However, this argument is questionable. A more pragmatic approach would also allow for follow-ups and evaluation of virginity certificates and hymen restorations, as is demonstrated by the Dutch policy. Hence, there are some obvious advantages to this pragmatic approach compared to the restrictive one espoused by a large minority of Swedish physicians and Swedish policy-makers in this area.

Minerva F.  Conscientious objection in Italy.  Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101656

  • Abstract:  The law regulating abortion in Italy gives healthcare practitioners the option to make a conscientious objection to activities that are specific and necessary to an abortive intervention. Conscientious objectors among Italian gynaecologists amount to about 70%. This means that only a few doctors are available to perform abortions, and therefore access to abortion is subject to constraints. In 2012 the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF EN) lodged a complaint against Italy to the European Committee of Social Rights, claiming that the inadequate protection of the right to access abortion implies a violation of the right to health. In this paper I will discuss the Italian situation with respect to conscientious objection to abortion and I will suggest possible solutions to the problem.

Nordstrand SJ, Nordstrandagnus MA, Nortvedt P,  Magelssen.  Medical students'attitudes towards conscientious objection: a survey  J Med Ethics 2014;40:609-612 doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101482

  • Objective: To examine medical students’ views on conscientious objection and controversial medical procedures.
    Methods: Questionnaire study among Norwegian 5th and 6th year medical students.   Results: Five hundred and thirty-one of 893 students (59%) responded. Respondents object to a range of procedures not limited to abortion (up to 19%)—notably euthanasia (62%), ritual circumcision for boys (52%), assisted reproduction for same-sex couples (9.7%) and ultrasound in the setting of prenatal diagnosis (5.0%). A small minority (4.9%) would object to referrals for abortion. In the case of abortion, up to 55% would tolerate conscientious refusals, whereas 42% would not. Higher proportions would tolerate refusals for euthanasia (89%) or ritual circumcision for boys (72%).
    Discussion: A majority of Norwegian medical students would object to participation in euthanasia or ritual circumcision for boys. However, in most settings, many medical students think doctors should not be able to refuse participation on grounds of conscience. A minority would accept conscientious refusals for procedures they themselves do not object to personally. Most students would not accept conscientious refusals for referrals.
    Conclusions: Conscientious objection remains a live issue in the context of several medical procedures not limited to abortion. Although most would want a right to object to participation in euthanasia, tolerance towards conscientious objectors in general was moderate or low.

Sawicki NN. Clinicians' Involvement in Capital Punishment  -  Constitutional Implications. N Engl J Med 371;2 july 10, 2014

  • If capital punishment is constitutional, as it has long been held to be, then it "necessarily follows that there must be a means of carrying it out."1 So the Supreme Court concluded in Baze v. Rees, a 2008 challenge to Kentucky's lethal-injection protocol, in which the Court held that the means used by Kentucky did not violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Lethal injection procedures have changed significantly since 2008, and that fact coupled with Oklahoma's recent botched lethal injection of Clayton Lockett, the latest in a long series of gruesome and error- ridden executions, has raised questions about whether current methods would pass constitutional muster if reviewed by the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, they probably would. . .

Smajdor A.  Perimortem gamete retrieval: should we worry about consent? J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101727. 

  • Abstract:   Perimortem gamete retrieval has been a possibility for several decades. It involves the surgical extraction of gametes which can then be cryo-preserved and stored for future use. Usually, the request for perimortem gamete retrieval is made by the patient's partner after the patient himself, or herself, has lost the capacity to consent for the procedure. Perimortem gamete retrieval allows for the partner of a dead patient to pursue jointly held reproductive aspiration long after their loved one's death. But how can we know if the dying patient would have consented to gamete retrieval? In the UK, consent is a legal necessity for storing or using gametes - but this is not always enforced. Moreover, although the issues related to posthumous reproduction have been discussed at length in the literature, few commentators have addressed the specific question of retrieval. Gamete retrieval is an invasive and sensitive operation; as with any other intervention performed on the bodies of dead or dying patients, the nature and justification for this procedure needs to be carefully considered. In particular, it is important to question the idea that consent for such an intervention can be inferred solely from a person's known wishes or plans concerning reproduction.

Thomsen FK. Prostitution, disability and prohibition.  J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2014-102215

  • Abstract: Criminalisation of prostitution, and minority rights for disabled persons, are important contemporary political issues. The article examines their intersection by analysing the conditions and arguments for making a legal exception for disabled persons to a general prohibition against purchasing sexual services. It explores the badness of prostitution, focusing on and discussing the argument that prostitution harms prostitutes, considers forms of regulation and the arguments for and against with emphasis on a liberty-based objection to prohibition, and finally presents and analyses three arguments for a legal exception, based on sexual rights, beneficence, and luck egalitarianism, respectively. It concludes that although the general case for and against criminalisation is complicated there is a good case for a legal exception.

Trigg R. Accommodating conscience in medicine.  J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101892 Commentary

  • The issue of conscientious objection to agreed public policy is a vexed one. The clearest example is that of conscientious objection to military service. A free and democratic society has to respect the consciences of those who believe that killing in battle is absolutely wrong. Many disagree with the moral stance being taken, but it has been seen as the mark of a mature and civilised society to respect the conscience of pacifists. The freedom to be able to live by what one thinks most important has been seen as a constituent element in the freedoms that others have fought to preserve.

    Respect for the conscience of those medical professionals who feel unable to participate in abortion appears to be in the same category (as would be respect for those who refused to participate in assisted suicide or euthanasia). Issues about the value of human life are at stake. Matters are undoubtedly complicated in the case of abortion by arguments over the supposed 'humanity' or 'personhood' of a fetus. Even so, some sincerely regard abortion as murder. Mutual respect is easy between people who agree. The problem in a democratic society arises when there is significant disagreement, but it is …

Truog RD, Cohen IG, Rockoff MA. Physicians, Medical Ethics, and Execution by Lethal Injection.   JAMA. 2014;311(23):2375-2376. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.6425.

  • In an opinion dissenting from a Supreme Court decision to deny review in a death penalty case, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun famously wrote, "From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death." In the wake of the recent botched execution by lethal injection in Oklahoma, however, a group of eminent legal professionals known as the Death Penalty Committee of The Constitution Project has published a sweeping set of 39 recommendations that not only tinker with, but hope to fix, the multitude of problems that affect this method of capital punishment.

Truog RD, Miller FG.  Changing the Conversation About Brain Death. The American Journal of Bioethics, 14:8, 9-14 (2014) DOI: 10.1080/15265161.2014.925154

  • We seek to change the conversation about brain death by highlighting the distinction between brain death as a biological concept versus brain death as a legal status. The fact that brain death does not cohere with any biologically plausible definition of death has been known for decades. Nevertheless, this fact has not threatened the acceptance of brain death as a legal status that permits individuals to be treated as if they are dead. The similarities between "legally dead" and "legally blind" demonstrate how we may legitimately choose bright-line legal definitions that do not cohere with biological reality. Not only does this distinction bring conceptual coherence to the conversation about brain death, but it has practical implications as well. Once brain death is recognized as a social construction not grounded in biological reality, we create the possibility of changing the social construction in ways that may better serve both organ donors and recipients alike.

Turda M.  The ambiguous victim: Miklós Nyiszli's narrative of medical experimentation in Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Historein. 2014; 14(1): 43–58. doi:  10.12681/historein.232

  • . . . While recent scholarship has – for the past two decades – endeavoured to transcend initial reservations about these forms of testimony, the difficulty with some of these memoirs – namely their authors’ implicit complicity in unethical medical research and in the Nazi Holocaust in general – remains however problematic. To address this thorny issue, in this article I consider the memoirs of a Jewish inmate doctor and forensic pathologist who worked with and for SS medical officers in Auschwitz, particularly Josef Mengele. His name was Mikló Nyiszli. . .