Conscientious Objections in Clinical Healthcare Education as a Manifestation of Religion

  • Kavot ZillénEmail author
Part of the Religion and Human Rights book series (REHU, volume 1)


A vital part of healthcare students’ education and medical preparation is to be exposed to a variety of health-related clinical settings. The students need the clinical education in order to gain knowledge and clinical reasoning skills to provide effective and safe healthcare services. Clinical healthcare education is consequently a critical component in delivering a competent and skilled future workforce. However, in some situations, students in their clinical training might refuse to participate in lawful healthcare and services that contradict their religion or beliefs, described here as conscientious objection in clinical healthcare education. In this paper, I will discuss whether healthcare professionals and students can ‘opt-out’ of participating in certain health related services and educational activities by referring to the protection of freedom of religion in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The aim of this paper is to give a clarification of whether freedom of religion includes a right to conscientious objection or not and under which circumstances. As will be shown in the paper, conscientious objection in healthcare setting can, in certain situations, constitute a manifestation of religion and belief. Thus, the right to manifest and practise this freedom is not an absolute right and can be subject to limitations in accordance with international law. For that reason, it is concluded that the answer to the question of whether students should be permitted to “opt out” of educational requirement based on religious grounds depends upon the manner in which the conscientious objection affects the interest of others, such as patients, caregivers and other staff members. In this regard, the educational healthcare institutions need to balance the right of conscientious objection, not only with the interests in having future healthcare professionals with proper educational training and required skills, but also with the legal and ethical responsibilities of the profession.


Conscientious objection Clinical healthcare education Freedom of religion ECHR Abortion Swedish Higher Education Ordinance 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LawStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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