Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 313–317 | Cite as

Forget Evil: Autonomy, the Physician–Patient Relationship, and the Duty to Refer

  • Jake Greenblum
  • T. J. Kasperbauer
Critical Response


Aulisio and Arora argue that the moral significance of value imposition explains the moral distinction between traditional conscientious objection and non-traditional conscientious objection. The former objects to directly performing actions, whereas the latter objects to indirectly assisting actions on the grounds that indirectly assisting makes the actor morally complicit. Examples of non-traditional conscientious objection include objections to the duty to refer. Typically, we expect physicians who object to a practice to refer, but the non-traditional conscientious objector physician refuses to refer. Aulisio and Arora argue that physicians have a duty to refer because refusing to do so violates the patient’s values. While we agree with Aulisio and Arora’s conclusions, we argue value imposition cannot adequately explain the moral difference between traditional conscientious objection and non-traditional conscientious objection. Treating autonomy as the freedom to live in accordance with one’s values, as Aulisio and Arora do, is a departure from traditional liberal conceptions of autonomy and consequently fails to explain the moral difference between the two kinds of objection. We outline how a traditional liberal understanding of autonomy would help in this regard, and we make two additional arguments—one that maintains that non-traditional conscientious objection undermines society’s autonomy, and another that maintains that it undermines the physician-patient relationship—to establish why physicians have a duty to refer.


Conscientious objection Autonomy Duty to refer Physician–patient relationship Rule of law Rawls 


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Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Adventist HealthcareGaithersburgUSA
  2. 2.KensingtonUSA
  3. 3.George Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA
  4. 4.ArlingtonUSA

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