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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude

Conscience and the History of Moral Philosophy

The President's Council on Bioethics1
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Session 22


John Paris, S.J., Ph.D.
Walsh Professor of Bioethics, Department of Theology, Boston College

Council Chairman

Edmund D. Pellegrino, M.D.
Georgetown University Medical Center

Members of the Council participating in discussion

Alfonso Gomez-Lobo, D.Phil.
Georgetown University

Benjamin S. Carson, M.D.
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

Rebecca S. Dresser, J.D., M.S.
Washington University

William B. Hurlburt, M.D.
Stanford University

Gilbert C. Meilaender, Ph.D.
Valparaiso University

Jean Beth Elshtain, Ph.D
University of Chicago

Opening Remarks

CHAIRMAN PELLEGRINO: Our next topic is the topic of conscience and its place in health care and medical care today, particularly the question of the conscience of the health professional and health care institution. In light of the growth and emergence and almost absolutization of patient autonomy, how are the two to be balanced? And what is the present status, both legally and morally, of the sanctity of the human conscience? Should the health professional be morally neutral as some have said?

To start this discussion from its groundwork of the history of the conscience and definition of what it is, we've asked Dr. John Paris, the Walsh Professor of Bioethics in the Department of Theology at Boston College. Dr. Paris has been a friend of mine for a long time. I'm not going to give an extended discussion, but we've asked him to address the fundamental issues while others will pick up the more recent issue of relationship to the health profession specifically. John? [. . .J. Paris]

Notes (Provided by the Protection of Conscience Project)

1. The President's Council on Bioethics was appointed by President George W. Bush and operated from 2001 to 2009. President Barack Obama subsequently formed The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

2. Source: Archived transcript of the session.

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Conscience, Moral Philosophy