Q. Does freedom of conscience imply the freedom to discriminate unjustly against any person or group?
A. No. We must distinguish between objecting to participation in some activity or practice on moral or religious grounds, and direct discrimination against people, either singly or collectively, on the grounds of their identity, backgrounds, or personal beliefs.
Q. Does freedom of conscience imply the freedom to withdraw from activities or practices that manifestly, on any reasonable interpretation, contribute to individual or public health?
A. No. Just as the refusal to pay taxes or contribute to national security is inconsistent with citizenship, so refusal to do that which clearly contributes to health is inconsistent with one’s duties as a health care worker.
Q. Does freedom of conscience imply the right to do certain things, such as perform procedures on patients even against their will?
A. Freedom of conscience and religion in health care is primarily about the right to withdraw from or withhold participation in some activity or practice. It is far less – some might argue not at all – about the right to perform some act or do something to a patient on conscience grounds, irrespective of whether the patient wants that treatment or not. There might be cases in which a right of performance applies as well, but these would be rare and would, of their nature, be subject to a significantly weaker presumption in favour of the rights of conscience.
Q. Does freedom of conscience imply the right to do anything to prevent a patient from receiving, at the hands of another practitioner, the treatment or procedure to which the conscientious objector demurs?
A. No. It only involves the right to withdraw one’s own participation or assistance, including referral – which latter is an act of co-operation to which most conscientious objectors take exception.
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