Our Conscience Points Us to True Freedom

March 26, 2021

*This article is the second in a series that will delve into issues of medical conscience rights.

In a new article published in the National Catholic Register, Fr. Dcn. Andrew Bennett, RFI Senior Fellow and Director of Cardus Religious Freedom Institute, writes about the critical role that conscience plays in properly exercising human freedom. He further addressed  why strong protections must remain in place for the conscience rights of physicians and other medical professionals. 

Bennett opens his article by dispelling the dangerous, secular understanding of freedom; namely, a radical autonomy in which we are free to “choose any course of action.”  

Yet this sort of radical autonomy is not freedom. At best, it leads to an unfocused and rudderless life in which we are at the whim of our passions and desires. At worst, it leads to enslavement to those same passions and desires. This understanding of choice is a disordered one because it regards choice itself as the highest good while giving little or no attention to the thing chosen.

Turning to the wisdom of the ancient Greek philosophers, Bennett articulates that human freedom has a goal: the pursuit of what is good and true, which promotes human flourishing and respects human dignity. Acknowledging that we can easily misuse our freedom, and thus violate human dignity, Bennett brings the reader to a discussion of conscience: 

All of us have the capacity to do good and evil. Pursuit of the good reflects the inherent goodness that our human dignity reveals; it is ordered. Pursuit of evil is a denial of our true selves and disordered. We know this at the deepest level of ourselves. Pressing upon all of us is the question of how to distinguish good from evil as a first critical step to choosing the good. That question brings to the fore that indispensable aspect of the human person classically referred to as conscience.

Within our conscience is seated a common moral ground through which we know something to be good  or bad, despite “today’s relativist illusion” that there is no objective truth, and we feel anguish when we choose wrongly. “To go against our conscience can have a profoundly negative effect on us as it leads us to violate our deeply held beliefs,” Bennett writes. He then underscores why conscience rights protections are so crucial, especially for those in the healthcare field: 

For the physician compelled to refer a patient for euthanasia or assist a mother in procuring an abortion, the result can be deep anguish if his conscience guides him to refuse….Physicians and other medical professionals should not be subjected to such an ultimatum — forced to choose between their conscience and their profession. This is why the protection of conscience rights for medical professionals is so critical: It preserves freedom of conscience, a freedom that we all must enjoy as human beings no matter what our vocation in life.

Read the full article: Our Conscience Points Us to True Freedom

Additional Articles in This Series:

The Government Cannot Dictate Your Conscience (Feb. 25, 2021)