The moral pluralism of Western democratic societies results in ethical differences among citizens and health professionals, due to contrasts between the foundational beliefs and values on which their ethical convictions rest. Some of these differences have challenging implications for the practice of medicine when a patient seeks access to a legal medical service that a conscientiously acting physician believes is unethical. Such disagreements raise pivotal questions about competing ethical values, the moral dynamic of shared decision-making, the meaning of conscience, and the extent to which society will accept ethical differences in professional practice. The act of referral is the focal point of this essay, because it appears to be at the front line of some current debates and legal contests about the extent to which society is willing to accommodate conscientious practice by physicians. Some see referrals as a way to balance respect for physician integrity with promotion of patient autonomy; others see referrals as a mistaken attempt at compromise that misunderstands the meaning of moral responsibility and participation. Understanding conscience as integrity helps explain the moral seriousness of conscientious practice and reinforces the need for professional and legal accommodations that respect it.


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pp. 383-400
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