A Reading philosophy professor has shaped international law and policy for healthcare workers who are put under pressure to act against their ethical or religious principles.

Wartime conscientious objectors, the ‘conchies’ famously given white feathers during the First World War, have traditionally had legal protection. Reading’s Professor David Oderberg has made a powerful case for the development of similar protection for healthcare workers. With rapid advances in medical technologies – such as gene editing or cognitive enhancement – he argues, health workers could come under increasing pressure to act against their sincerely held ethical or religious principles.

Professor Oderberg has put forward the idea of a statutory framework for the protection of conscience in respect of medical treatments and procedures, which would build on human rights conventions but also be backed up with legal theory based on judicial decisions on medical conscience. This legal protection, he argues, should extend also to acts of ‘cooperation’ with medical treatments and procedures objected to on conscience grounds.

From the US Supreme Court to the UK House of Lords, Professor Oderberg has influenced and worked with legislators, policymakers and advocates across the world to develop realistic policy proposals. Developing his ideas through academic papers and a policy monograph for a leading UK Thinktank the Institute for Economic Affairs, he has advised on proposed legislation in the UK and Canada, written reports for Polish policymakers and engaged with leading judges on both sides of the Atlantic.

Over 500 surgeons, consultants, GPs, nurses and midwives and members of the public have signed their names in support of Oderberg’s public declaration on medical conscience. His pioneering work has opened up debate and shaped law and policy on the topic of conscience in medicine, both in the UK and internationally.

Find out more

Declaration in support of conscientious objection in healthcare (project website)

View the full impact case study on the REF 2021 website: Promoting Freedom of Conscience in Health Care