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Selling conscience short: a response to Schuklenk and Smalling on conscientious objections by medical professionals


In a thought-provoking paper, Schuklenk and Smalling argue that no right to conscientious objection should be granted to medical professionals. First, they hold that it is impossible to assess either the truth of conscience-based claims or the sincerity of the objectors. Second, even a fettered right to conscientious refusal inevitably has adverse effects on the rights of patients. We argue that the main problem with their position is that it is not derived from a broader reflection on the meaning and implications of freedom of conscience and reasonable accommodation. We point out that they collapse two related but distinct questions, that is, the subjective conception of freedom of conscience and the sincerity test. We note that they do not successfully show that the standard norm according to which exemption claims should not impose undue hardship on others is unworkable. We suggest that the main reason why arguments such as no one is forced to be a medical professional are flawed is that public norms should not constrain citizens to choose between two of their basic rights unless it is necessary. In fine, Schuklenk and Smalling, who see conscience claims as arbitrary dislikes, sell freedom of conscience short and forego any attempts at balancing the competing rights involved. We maintain the authors neglect that most of legal reasoning is contextual and that the blanket restriction of healthcare professionals' freedom of conscience is disproportionate.

  • Conscientious Objection
  • Legal Philosophy
  • Euthanasia
  • Political Philosophy
  • Interests of Health Personnel/Institutions

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