Conscientious refusal in healthcare: the Swedish solution

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Abstract

The Swedish solution to the legal handling of professional conscientious refusal in healthcare is described. No legal right to conscientious refusal for any profession or class of professional tasks exists in Sweden, regardless of the religious or moral background of the objection. The background of this can be found in strong convictions about the importance of public service provision and related civic duties, and ideals about rule of law, equality and non-discrimination. Employee's requests to change work tasks are handled on a case-by-case basis within the frames of labour law, ensuring full voluntariness, and also employer's privilege regarding the organisation and direction of work, and duties of public institutions to provide services. Two complicating aspects of this solution related to the inclusion of ‘alternative medical’ service providers in a national health service, and professional insistence on conscientious refusal rights to accept legalised assisted dying are discussed. The latter is found to undermine the pragmatic reasons behind recent attempts by prolife groups to challenge the Swedish solution related to legal abortion in courts.

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