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Contemporary Challenges to Conscience

Legal and Ethical Frameworks for Professional Conduct

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Edited By Aleksander Stępkowski

This book is a collection of studies addressing the complex and sensitive issue of conscientious objection. It has become utmost controversial, especially in relation to professional conduct in healthcare service. Moral dilemmas of physicians, being always a part of human existence, due to the development of public health insurance, became also a political issue with legal consequences. The book provides an in-depth analysis of this complex issue from a multidisciplinary perspective, including philosophical, political, legal and medical aspects. It also presents various experiences of different medical and legal professionals in this field.

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Contemporary Challenges to Conscience and Their Specificity

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Contemporary medical healthcare system is the place of growing ethical controversies within the society, uncovering conflicting interests and different attitudes to fundamental human values in social life. Moral controversies or moral dilemmas of physicians have always been part of human life. It would, however, be an erroneous reduction if we considered contemporary conflicts around conscientious objection as an aspect of everlasting human moral condition. Today, controversies around the conscience are very much specific.

Strictly understood, conscience refers to specific moral recognition of a particular factual situation. Therefore, conscientious objection should be referred to as an exceptional situation in which a conscientious conflict arises not because of unjust nature of applicable law, but due to extraordinary circumstances giving exceptional effect of an abstract and general statutory rule, which in itself need not to be unjust. However, it is not the case today. When dealing with conscientious objection, contemporary authors refer to regular operation of abstract and general norms rather than extraordinary situations. These are not exceptional, factual circumstances but general rules applied in a regular way, which provoke serious moral conflicts and much of the public debate, far exceeding the academic one. As Jakub Pawlikowski stresses in his contribution, providing the most valuable perspective of a medical doctor, majority of the problems related to conscientious objection in medicine arise from the inappropriate, unnecessary and morally unjustifiable scope of duties imposed on healthcare workers – duties which in some areas are contrary to medicine’s internal goals. Therefore, despite the...

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