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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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Threats to Conscience Protection in the United States During the Years of the Obama Administration1

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Abstract: The chapter presents issues of protecting freedom of religion and conscience in the United States as of 2015. The conclusion is that American society is one in which the rights of medical professionals, and indeed of all citizens, to freedom of conscience is on shaky ground. The reasons for such a situation are three. First is that constitutional safeguards for constitutional freedoms depend currently more upon the philosophy of Supreme Court judges than on the written text of the constitutional provisions. The second reason is that many judges – and other American cultural and political leaders – often regard religion as superstition that must yield to enlightened opinions. Finally, the crucial element for assessment of the right to conscientious protection is the status of abortion, which is considered by many powerful American elites not as a threat to constitutional rights but as basic healthcare service.

Keywords: abortion, conscience, constitution, freedom, rule of judges

1 The principle

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States2 protects religious liberty – “[government] shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” While “freedom of conscience” is not directly mentioned in the First Amendment, it was generally understood – by both the founders of the American republic3 and the Supreme Court4 – to be within the protection afforded by the First Amendment.5

Furthermore, freedom of religion/conscience may be protected expressly in specific federal laws, such as what are called the...

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