Program on Medicine and Religion

Conscience and Controversial Clinical Practices

At times patients request interventions that their physicians cannot in good conscience provide. Sometimes such interventions are both legal and approved by professional bodies.

In 2007, Curlin and colleagues published a report titled “Religion, Conscience and Controversial Clinical Practices” in the New England Journal of Medicine. The report described US physicians’ ideas about what they are obligated to do when patients request legal medical interventions to which their physicians have religious or other moral obligations.

That report and others have kindled debates about physician conscience. These debates concern the ends of medicine, the scope of professional obligations, and the role of physician moral judgment and discernment in the contemporary practice of medicine.

In March 2008 we hosted a conference, funded by the Greenwall Foundation, on this subject. Six of the papers from that conference, along with an introduction, were published in a special issue of Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, fall 2008, edited by Dr. Curlin. Click here to read those papers. In September 2008, Dr. Curlin gave expert testimony before the President’s Council on Bioethics (click here to read the transcript) on the same subject.

In addition, we have listed below several publications by Program faculty and colleagues that address the issue of physician conscience in the practice of medicine.

Related Publications