Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Conscientious objection: unmasking the impartial spectator
  1. Toni C Saad
  1. Cardiology Department, University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff
  1. Correspondence to Toni C Saad, Cardiology Department, University Hospital of Wales, Heath Park Way, Cardiff CF14 4XW ; ToniSaad{at}


Hoping to bring some objectivity to the debate, Ben-Moshe has argued that conscientious objection in medicine should be accommodated based on its concordance with the ‘impartial spectator’, a metaphor for conscience drawn from the writings of Adam Smith. This response finds fault with this account on two fronts: first, that its claim to objectivity is unsubstantiated; second, that it implicitly relies on moral absolutes, despite claiming that conscience is a social construct, thereby calling its coherence and claims into question. Briefly, a traditional account of conscience is then described, before ending with a related thesis for future discussion.

  • conscientious objection
  • abortion
  • philosophical ethics

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Contributors TCS is the sole author of this work.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

Linked Articles