Conscientious objection to any procedure doctor's right, say medical students

July 19, 2011

Doctors should be allowed to object to any procedure that conflicts with their personal, moral, or religious beliefs, reveals a survey of medical students, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Nearly half of respondents believed in the right of doctors to conscientiously object and refuse to treat a patient who wanted an abortion, contraceptive services, or who was drunk or high on drugs, or who wanted an intimate examination and was of the opposite sex.

This right was more frequently expressed among Muslim , the survey findings showed.

The author contacted 1437 medical students at medical schools in Cardiff, London, and Leeds, and asked them to complete an anonymous questionnaire to canvass their views on conscientious objection to medical practices in 2008.

The students were also asked about their , their gender, and the type of medical degree they were taking.

In all, 733 responded, giving a response rate of 51%. One in three was male, and three out of four respondents were taking a five year degree.

Just under a third (30%) said they had no faith. And just over 17% said they were Prostestant.

There were similar proportions - around one in 10 (just under 12%) - of atheists and Catholics. The remainder were made up of "other" (11.5%); Muslim (9%); Hindu (5%); Sikh, Buddhist, or Jewish (just over 1%). Two people classified themselves as Eastern Orthodox.

In response to the question: 'Do you think that doctors should be entitled to object to any procedure for which they have a moral, cultural or religious disagreement?' 45% said yes; 14% were unsure; 40% said no.

Three out of four Muslim students (76%) responded in the affirmative, as did over half of Jewish, Protestant and 'Other' students. The proportions of those with other faiths who said 'yes', ranged from 34% (Hindu) to 46% ().

When asked about 11 medical practices, which included abortion and treating patients who are drunk or high on drugs, students on the traditional five year course (21%) were more likely to raise objections than those on the four year course (3%).

Across the entire group of medical students, one in five objections were on religious grounds; almost half were on non-religious grounds, and around one in three were a mixture of both.

Muslim and Protestant students were the most likely to give religious reasons for their objection, followed by Catholic students. Jewish students were the least likely to object on these grounds.

Medical students were least willing to treat patients requesting an abortion. Muslim students were the most likely to object to all 11 practices.

"In light of increasing demand for abortions, these results may have implications for women's access to abortion services in the future. The Department of Health has issued statistics showing that, although there are an increasing number of abortions taking place in the UK, fewer doctors are willing to perform them," writes the author.

She concludes: "Once qualified as doctors, if all these respondents acted on their conscience and refused to perform certain procedures, it may become impossible for conscientious objectors to be accommodated in medicine."

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2 / 5 (4) Jul 19, 2011
I'm surprised that this is even questioned.

How does anyone expect someone to perform a procedure which he/she finds immoral or unethical?
5 / 5 (4) Jul 19, 2011
IMHO, if the procedure is legal and medically viable, a doctor who refuses to perform the procedure should find another career. If personal morals and religious beliefs are more important to a person than performing their job as a doctor, then perhaps they should pursue a career as a priest, pastor or imam instead of medicine.
5 / 5 (3) Jul 19, 2011
Should a mechanic refuse to work on a person's car because he thinks their lifestyle is immoral? Should a grocer refuse to sell produce to a person whose religious beliefs or ethnicity they don't share? It's called discrimination, folks. Some procedures may seem immoral or unethical to you, but discrimination is illegal. If you plan to practice discrimination along with medicine, then do the world a favor and turn in your medical license - prejudice is not needed in the medical profession.
1 / 5 (2) Jul 19, 2011
So you would have no problem injecting a criminal with the chemicals for execution?

You would require a physician to do it in violation of his oath?

Note that we are talking about something which is legal.
5 / 5 (3) Jul 19, 2011
Your example illustrates a dilemma, but it is not a medical dilemma. Physicians should not be forced to do anything in violation of their oath, but not necessarily in "violation" of their religious or moral beliefs. Their oath is part of their professional service, personal beliefs apply only so far as they help a person to decide if a career in medicine is for them or not.

IMHO, the execution administration should not be done by a physician, but by some other legally-empowered official who has not sworn a medical oath to "do no harm". Does a physician turn on the electric chair or start up the gas generation in a gas chamber?
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 19, 2011
Dogfart would have no problem filling the gas chamber...
3 / 5 (2) Jul 19, 2011
"I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.
I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.
But I will preserve the purity of my life and my arts."

Don't see why objecting to these practices is a bad thing.
1 / 5 (2) Jul 19, 2011
Yes, Phototoxin. Integrity is a good thing, particularly in a physician.

A physician who does not care about these things may not care about you or your health either.
5 / 5 (1) Jul 23, 2011
A physician who does not care about these things may not care about you or your health either.

Personally caring about patients or their health does not a good physician make.

It is more important that the physician values all patients physiological and psychological health and from there does his best to deliver the best medical treatment.

The physician should also be able to advise the patient about the patients autonomous wishes if these do not seem informed, well thought out or are particularly harmful to themselves and/or others.

Th integrity to adhere to humanistic medical principles is the idealistic duty of physicians. If the physicians personal philosophy differs too far from this it needs to take a backseat while in active duty.
not rated yet Jul 24, 2011
As a medical student, I do support this right, as long as it does not endanger the health of the patient. For example, I have no problem with abortions, but if some doctor does not want to do them, he should not be forced to do it. It is up to his employer (if not private) and his patients to decide whether they want such doctor or not. On the other hand, doctors should have a duty to inform in advance their potential employer and also relevant patients that they dont do the procedure in question.
not rated yet Jul 24, 2011
Should a mechanic refuse to work on a person's car because he thinks their lifestyle is immoral? Should a grocer refuse to sell produce to a person whose religious beliefs or ethnicity they don't share?

Wrong analogy. It is about the procedure itself, not the person. Should a mechanic refuse to work on a persons car because his religion forbids him to repair this type of car? Should a grocer refuse to sell a particular type of produce because his ideology considers it impure plant or something?

The answer is yes.
1 / 5 (1) Jul 24, 2011
Physicians are not required to take the Hippocratic oath so they CAN do harm as they choose.

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