Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 40, Issue 6, pp 565–581 | Cite as

Protecting reasonable conscientious refusals in health care

  • Jason T. EberlEmail author


Recently, debate over whether health care providers should have a protected right to conscientiously refuse to offer legal health care services—such as abortion, elective sterilization, aid in dying, or treatments for transgender patients—has grown exponentially. I advance a modified compromise view that bases respect for claims of conscientious refusal to provide specific health care services on a publicly defensible rationale. This view requires health care providers who refuse such services to disclose their availability by other providers, as well as to arrange for referrals or facilitate transfers of care. This requirement raises the question of whether providers are being forced to be complicit in the provision of services they deem to be morally objectionable. I conclude by showing how this modified compromise view answers the most significant objections mounted by critics of the right to conscientious refusal and safeguards providers from having to offer services that most directly threaten their moral integrity.


Conscientious objection Conscience Conscientious refusal Abortion Aid in dying Thomas Aquinas Catholicism 



I am most grateful to Abram Brummett, Christopher Ostertag, Udo Schuklenk, an anonymous reviewer, and participants at the 2018 meeting of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care EthicsSaint Louis UniversitySaint LouisUSA

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