When Conscience and Duty Conflict: A Health Care Provider’s Moral Dilemma


David S. Kemp

Most of the time, physicians and other health care providers have coincident legal and ethical duties to perform their professional job functions. An emergency room physician’s obligation to treat patients admitted to the ER derives both from law and from ethics. A nurse’s duty to prepare a patient for surgery likewise comes from both sources. In some instances, however, a provider’s own personal beliefs may mandate one behavior while law and duty require another.

The most salient and most commonly discussed example in this context is that of abortion, and with regard to that procedure, the law is relatively clear: Providers who are morally opposed to abortions or sterilization may legally refuse to participate in those procedures. Similarly, in states that allow physician-assisted suicide, physicians who have moral objections to the practice are not legally obligated to engage in it simply because a patient requests it. In these cases, the law protects the provider’s right of conscience. . . Read More . . .


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