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Should professional interpreters be able to conscientiously object in healthcare settings?
  1. Nathan Emmerich1,2,
  2. Christine Phillips1
  1. 1 The Medical School, College of Health and Medicine, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
  2. 2 Institute of Ethics, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Nathan Emmerich, The Medical School, College of Health and Medicine, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia; nathan.emmerich{at}


In a globalised world, healthcare professionals will inevitably find themselves caring for patients whose first language differs from their own. Drawing on experiences in Australia, this paper examines a specific problem that can arise in medical consultations using professional interpreters: whether the moral objections of interpreters should be accommodated as conscientious objections if and when their services are required in contexts where healthcare professionals have such entitlements, most notably in relation to consultations concerning termination of pregnancy and voluntary assisted dying. We argue that existing statements of professional ethics suggest that interpreters should not be accorded such rights. The social organisation of healthcare and interpreting services in Australia may mean those who have serious objections to particular medical practices could provide their services in restricted healthcare contexts. Nevertheless, as a general rule, interpreters who have such objections should avoid working within healthcare.

  • conscientious objection
  • applied and professional ethics
  • codes of/position statements on professional ethics

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  • Contributors NE is the first author and CP is the second author. Both were involved at all stages in the production of this paper.

  • 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.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

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

  • Data availability statement There are no data in this work

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