Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience
Oxford University Press, 2012, 260pp., $65.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780199592944
Alon Harel, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
In her thorough, careful and insightful discussion, Kimberley Brownlee explores the nature of conscience and conscientious convictions and draws important conclusions concerning the justifiable protection of acts of civil disobedience. The first part of her book discusses morality while the second part discusses law. In addition to its rigorous analysis, the book contains lively discussions of real-life examples and hypotheticals designed to illustrate and address all possible objections and establish the centrality of the protection of conscientious convictions and conscience in a liberal society. . . . Read more. . .
According to a law that went into effect on 1 September, Spanish physicians may not provide health care for undocumented migrants except in cases of emergency, pregnancy, or delivery. The Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine (SEMFyC), supported by the Spanish Medical Colleges, holds that the law is contrary to medical ethics and is advising physicians to become “conscientious objectors” to the law. [Hastings Center Bioethics Forum]
A former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and a professor at Harvard Medical school are urging that American physicians practice civil disobedience by refusing to obey laws that block access to abortion and contraception. “The unspoken assumption by state legislators seems to be that doctors will,” write Marcia Angell and Michael Greene,”. . . acquiesce with these new laws, that they are simply neutral agents who will comply with whatever the state orders.” They argue that physicians “have ethical commitments to patients that they cannot and should not be required by state law to set aside.” [USA Today]
The UNESCO Chair in Bioethics at the University of Barcelona held a seminar on “Abortion and conscientious objection” in early February. The Chair’s director, Maria Casado, told the press that Spain should establish a national registry of physicians who object to abortion as a method of ensuring access to the procedure. While she claimed to support a right to conscientious objection, she said that “When [it] is transformed into a collective stance for ideological reasons, it turns into civil disobedience.” [ELN]
Med Law. 2006 Sep;25(3):513-22. PubMed PMID: 17078524
Bernard M. Dickens
This paper addresses laws and practices urged by conservative religious organizations that invoke conscientious objection in order to deny patients access to lawful procedures. Many are reproductive health services, such as contraception, sterilization and abortion, on which women’s health depends. Religious institutions that historically served a mission to provide healthcare are now perverting this commitment in order to deny care. Physicians who followed their calling honourably in a spirit of self-sacrifice are being urged to sacrifice patients’ interests to promote their own, compromising their professional ethics by conflict of interest. The shield tolerant societies allowed to protect religious conscience is abused by religiously-influenced agencies that beat it into a sword to compel patients, particularly women, to comply with religious values they do not share. This is unethical unless accompanied by objectors’ duty of referral to non-objecting practitioners, and governmental responsibility to ensure supply of and patients’ access to such practitioners. [Full Text]
Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
John H. Redekop*
A basic requirement for the functioning of civil society, especially in a democracy, is that citizens, generally speaking, should obey the laws of the land. Christians and most, if not all, other religious groups accept that principle as an over-arching reality. The logic is compelling. If citizens, in substantial numbers, would take the law into their own hands and individually decide which laws to obey and which to disobey, then anarchy might result rather quickly. The theory is clear and essentially true but the practical situation is sometimes more complicated.
What is to be done by responsible and highly moral citizens if certain laws are inherently evil? What should citizens do if the government of the day pressures them to violate their conscience on a fundamental principle? What should they do if their government suddenly denies them the most basic of freedoms? We know from history as well as from the present global situation that Christians often encounter laws which are unjust and simply wrong. The Christian response is clear. . . [Read on]