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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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Freedom of Conscience – A Basic Human Right?

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Abstract: Medical ethics as we used to know them are undermined by new laws, resulting in acute ethical dilemmas for a growing number of professionals. As a counter-strategy, “freedom of religion and conscience” is invoked as a justification for disrespecting controversial statutory provisions, and to do so with impunity. In this contribution I argue that the freedom of religion and conscience be interpreted to confer to religious believers (or secularists) a general right to disobey the law with impunity based on their own moral convictions. Moreover, “freedom of conscience” is unlikely to be a winning strategy in public discourse. Instead, it seems advisable to invoke freedoms that are appealing also to non-believers - in particular, the freedom of contract being an aspect of the “right to respect for one’s private life”, which is protected under Article 8 of the ECHR.

Keywords: freedom of religion and conscience, human rights, freedom of contract, unjust law.

1 Introduction

In many countries, the legal order is currently being transformed in a way that makes it difficult for Christians, and not only for them, to live and act according to their consciences. As the recent case of Prof. Bogdan Chazan evidences, Poland is no exception although the situation is certainly far worse in other countries.

Abortion, euthanasia, the fabrication of human beings in vitro, organ transplantation, and so on are gradually undermining the code of medical ethics as we knew it; the medical professions are...

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