Professional and conscience-based refusals: the case of the psychiatrist’s harmful prescription

Morten Magelssen

Abstract

By way of a case story, two common presuppositions in the academic debate on conscientious objection in healthcare are challenged. First, the debate typically presupposes a sharp division between conscience-based refusals based on personal core moral beliefs and refusals based on professional (eg, medical) reasons. Only the former might involve the moral gravity to warrant accommodation. The case story challenges this division, and it is argued that just as much might sometimes be at stake morally in refusals based on professional reasons. The objector’s moral integrity might be equally threatened in objections based on professional reasons as in objections based on personal beliefs. Second, the literature on conscientious objection typically presupposes that conflicts of conscience pertain to well-circumscribed and typical situations which can be identified as controversial without attention to individualising features of the concrete situation. However, the case shows that conflicts of conscience can sometimes be more particular, born from concrete features of the actual situation, and difficult, if not impossible, to predict before they arise. Guidelines should be updated to address such ‘situation-based’ conscientious refusals explicitly.


Magelssen M. Professional and conscience-based refusals: the case of the psychiatrist’s harmful prescription.  Journal of Medical Ethics Published Online First: 24 April 2017. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2017-104162

Medical students’ attitudes towards conscientious objection: a survey

J Med Ethics 2014;40:609-612 doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101482

Sven Jakob Nordstrand, Magnus Andreas Nordstrand, Per Nortvedt, Morten Magelssen

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. [Full Text]