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Conscientious objection and the referral requirement as morally permissible moral mistakes
  1. Nathan Emmerich1,2
  1. 1 School of 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, School of Medicine, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia; nathan.emmerich{at}


Some contributions to the current literature on conscience objection in healthcare posit the notion that the requirement to refer patients to a non-objecting provider is a morally questionable undertaking in need of explanation. The issue is that providing a referral renders those who conscientiously object to being involved in a particular intervention complicit in its provision. This essay seeks to engage with such claims and argues that referrals can be construed in terms of what Harman calls morally permissible moral mistakes. I go on to suggest that one might frame the (in)actions of those who exercise the right of non-participation generated by the claim to conscientiously object in similar terms; they can also be considered morally permissible moral mistakes. Finally, and given that the arguments already advanced involve simultaneously looking at the same issue from competing ethical perspectives, I offer some brief remarks that support viewing conscientious objection as an ethicopolitical device.

  • conscientious refusal to treat
  • abortion - induced
  • policy
  • ethics- medical
  • ethics

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  • Contributors NE is the sole author of this work and, therefore, is the guarantor.

  • 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; externally peer reviewed.

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