RFI Research Fellow Makes Case for Medical Conscientious Objection

May 14, 2021

In an article published recently in National Catholic Register titled, “The Case for Medical Conscientious Objection” Dr. Brian Bird, a research fellow with RFI’s North America Action Team and an assistant professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia, comments on freedom of conscience in the medical field. In the United States, the issues Dr. Bird raises are under consideration in medical conscience protection bills in Texas, South Carolina, and Montana, and recently passed in Arkansas

While Bird contends for the importance of freedom of conscience in all areas of life, he argues that health care requires particular consideration:

Although freedom of conscience is not absolute, health care is a context in which ample room should be made for moral and ethical freedom. If there is an area of the public square in which freedom of conscience should be robustly granted and reluctantly curtailed, health care is it. The idea of physicians, nurses or pharmacists assuming the posture of uncritical bureaucrats rather than morally sensitive health-care providers is unsettling, given the nature of their work.

Bird then discusses the difficult decisions that healthcare providers must make every day and that the state cannot intervene in many of these decisions without violating medical conscience rights. He writes:

Procedures and drugs that often attract conscientious objection often involve difficult and painful decisions. In the case of abortion, a woman’s body, psychological integrity, life and the future are at stake. However, physicians who conscientiously refuse to perform abortions do so because the body, life and the future of the fetus are also at stake — not to mention their own moral and psychological integrity. The focus of health care is undoubtedly the well-being of the patient, but health-care workers are not — and given what is at stake in health care, should never be — robotic functionaries. They are human beings with human rights and must not be instrumentalized.

In sum, Bird asserts that freedom of conscience is an essential means by which a society respects the core of a person’s moral identity and integrity. But this freedom upholds not only individual rights but also “serves to orient the moral compass of a society” and, as such, is essential for the flourishing of a morally diverse society.

Read the full article: The Case for Medical Conscientious Objection.