Opponents of conscientious objection in healthcare, such as Savulescu, argue that healthcare professionals cannot have a right to conscientiously object to provide professional services, because such a right would be incompatible with their professional obligations. Defenders of conscientious objection in healthcare typically respond to this line of argument by describing the professional obligations of healthcare professionals in a ‘top-down’ manner – making generalizations about the healthcare professions and the ways in which these are organized, and deriving claims about individual professional obligations from these generalizations which are compatible with a right to conscientiously object. I argue that such approaches don’t succeed in grounding individual professional obligations. What we need to do instead is to approach this issue ‘bottom up’. The best way to determine what exactly the professional obligations of healthcare professionals are, and to determine whether or not these are compatible with a right to conscientiously object is to focus our attention on the issue of how individual professional obligations are acquired in the healthcare professions. When we do this we arrive at some surprising results, which I outline.
Steve Clarke is a Research Fellow at the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities and the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. He works on a range of projects in bioethics, including projects on conscientious objection in healthcare and on the role of sacred values in healthcare decision making. He was lead investigator on two recent Australian Research Council discovery grants. Steve is the author of two books, co-editor of four books and the author of seventy five journal articles and chapters in books. His papers have appeared in such journals as the American Philosophical Quarterly, the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Synthese and the Canadian Journal of Philosophy.