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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 and Conscientious Objection in the Medical Area

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Abstract: The chapter presents the thesis that freedom of conscience is at the very core of human rights. It is protected in all human rights instruments. Since the very nature of medicine was altered, the law provided conscience clauses to guarantee that medical staff would not be obliged to participate in those non-therapeutic activities. Strictly speaking, these clauses are not conscientious objection, because there is no legal obligation to participate in such non-therapeutic activities. However, some recent developments suggest that real medical conscientious objection will develop in Europe. The problem does not lie in the conscience of the objector, but in the act demanded, which falls out of the scope of medicine and contradicts human life or dignity.

Keywords: abortion, conscientious objection, discrimination, euthanasia, freedom of conscience, human rights

1 Freedom of conscience, a cornerstone of human rights

Freedom of conscience is at the very core of human rights. It is protected in all human rights instruments, especially in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“the Covenant”) and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“the Convention”), directly and/or through the prohibition of discrimination.

Its importance is underlined by the fact that, according to Article 4 of the Covenant, no derogation can be made to this right even “in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation”. According to Article 9-2 of the European Convention (and Article 18-3 of the...

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