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Conscientious Objection I

Can a health care provider who objects to providing a procedure or a prescription also object to giving a referral for it?

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What about providing information about a procedure/medication – can a health care provider object to this?

What does Brock have to say about this?

Would Sulmasy agree or disagree?

            As each one of us may agree, and as common knowledge, healthcare professionals, especially the physicians, are bound to provide services that are deemed necessary to maintain health, promote wellness, treat or cure illness, and most of all, to save lives. In this manner, the health services and/or procedures that will be provided are duly mandated by laws and policies existing in every state or nation, respectively. Nevertheless, human as they are, health care providers do have personal beliefs and religious convictions, which might affect their very own perspectives and choices— whether or not to perform medical procedures.

            In regard to the questions, “can a health care provider who objects to providing a procedure or a prescription also object to giving a referral for it?” and “can a health care provider object about providing information about a procedure/medication?” here are the scholarly opinions of some reputable authors:

Dan W. Brock (2008) says:

According to the conventional compromise, a physician/pharmacist who has a serious moral objection to providing a service/product to a patient/customer is not required to do so only if the following three conditions are satisfied:

1. The physician/pharmacist informs the patient/customer about the service/ product if it is medically relevant to their medical condition;

2. The physician/pharmacist refers the patient/customer to another professional willing and able to provide the service/product;

3. The referral does not impose an unreasonable burden on the patient/customer. (p. 194)

Daniel P. Sulmasy (2008) says:

Ought such a society to therefore compel the conscientiously objecting individual physicians that it licenses to perform that procedure simply because that society has determined that there is a legal right to have it performed? Or ought that society to compel conscientiously objecting physicians to refer those who seek this procedure to clinicians who would be willing to do so? This seems beyond the bounds of true mutual respect for conscience… …It would therefore seem that tolerant societies would set a very high threshold for compelling the performance of a practice in violation of conscience. Conscientious refraining from actions, when such restraint does not risk illness, injury, or death, and does not constitute traditional tort claims such as battery, assault, or libel, would not seem to rise to the level of sufficient grounds for compelling conscience. (p. 147)

Moreover, Brock (2008) and Sulmacy (2008) agreed that though health care providers have their personal viewpoints, which would pave the way to their objections to particular procedures, they are definitely covered by the laws of their states, where they owe their licenses. This would mean that they are bound to fulfill their duties, which they are held accountable, or they suffer the legal consequences of non-performance of their responsibilities to their patients, such as providing referrals if they cannot perform a certain procedure. In addition, if the physicians and other health care providers object to a particular procedure or medication, it is still their duty to provide information regarding the actions and adverse reaction, as well as the benefits and disadvantages, of a particular medication or procedure to their patients due to the fact that patients have the right to receive information regarding their care, at the same time, it is one of the duties and responsibilities of health care professionals to provide such information. Hence, the legal and ethical aspects of care, not only personal beliefs and convictions, must also be carefully considered in regard to these issues.


Brock, D. W. (2008). Conscientious refusal by physicians and pharmacists: who is obligated to do what, and why? [Published online: 28 August 2008 © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008] Theor Med Bioeth, 29, pp. 187–200.

Sulmasy, D. P. (2008). What is conscience and why is respect for it so important? [Published online: 30 August 2008 © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008] Theor Med Bioeth, 29, 135–149.

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