Conscientious objection in healthcare: why tribunals might be the answer

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Abstract

A recent focus of the debate on conscientious objection in healthcare is the question of whether practitioners should have to justify their refusal to perform certain functions. A recent article by Cowley addresses a practical aspect of this controversy, namely the question of whether doctors claiming conscientious objector status in relation to abortion should be required, like their counterparts claiming exemption from military conscription, to defend their claim before a tribunal. Cowley argues against the use of tribunals in the medical case, on the grounds that there are likely to be fewer unjustified claims to conscientious objection in this context than in the military, and that in any case tribunals will not be an effective way of distinguishing genuine and false cases. I reject these arguments and propose a different conception of the role of a medical conscientious objection tribunal.

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