Conscientious Objection and Clinical Judgement: The Right to Refuse to Harm

Toni C. Saad

The New Bioethics

Abstract
This paper argues that healthcare aims at the good of health, that this pursuit of the good necessitates conscience, and that conscience is required in every practical judgement, including clinical judgment. Conscientious objection in healthcare is usually restricted to a handful of controversial ends (e.g. abortion, euthanasia, contraception), yet the necessity of conscience in all clinical judgements implies the possibility of conscientious objection to means. The distinction between conscientious objection to means and ends is explored and its implications considered. Based on this, it is suggested that conscientious objection, whether to means or ends, occurs when a proposed course of action comes into irreconcilable conflict with the moral principle ‘do no harm’. It is, therefore, concluded that conscientious objection in healthcare can be conceived as a requirement of the moral imperative to do no harm, the right to refuse to harm in regard to health.


Saad TC. Conscientious Objection and Clinical Judgement: The Right to Refuse to Harm. New Bioethics. 2019 Sep; 25(3): 248-261 DOI:10.1080/20502877.2019.1649863

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