HEC Forum

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Why Tolerate Conscientious Objections in Medicine

  • Thomas D. HarterEmail author


Most arguments about conscientious objections in medicine fail to capture the full scope and complexity of the concept before drawing conclusions about their permissibility in practice. Arguments favoring and disfavoring the accommodation of conscientious objections in practice tend to focus too narrowly on prima facie morally contentious treatments and religious claims of conscience, while further failing to address the possibility of moral perspectives changing over time. In this paper, I argue that standard reasons against permitting conscientious objections in practice—that their permission may result in harm to patients, the idea that medical providers willingly enter into the medical field, and that conscientious objections stand contrary to medical professionalism—do not apply in all cases and that the medical field and health systems in which many physicians now practice should continue to tolerate conscientious objections in practice.


Conscientious objection Religion and medicine Liberalism Harm 



I would like to thank Tyler Whatley, MTS, of Divine Savior Healthcare and Sarah Brown, MD, of Gundersen Health System for their helpful thoughts and comments on the ideas presented in this paper, particularly regarding some of the case examples.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Bioethics and HumanitiesGundersen Health SystemLa CrosseUSA

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