Report by the American Medical Association’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs on Physicians’ Exercise of Conscience
BJ Crigger, Patrick W. McCormick, Stephen L. Brotherton, and Valarie Blake
As practicing clinicians, physicians are expected to uphold the ethical norms of their profession, including fidelity to patients and respect for patients’ self-determination. At the same time, as individuals, physicians are moral agents in their own right and, like their patients, are informed by and committed to diverse cultural, religious, and philosophical traditions and beliefs. In some circumstances, the expectation that physicians will put patients’ needs and preferences first may be in tension with the need to sustain the sense of moral integrity and continuity that grounds a physician’s personal and professional life.
This article examines the implications for patients, physicians, and the medical profession when tensions arise between a physician’s professional commitments and his or her deeply held personal moral beliefs. It offers guidance on when a physician’s professional commitments should outweigh personal beliefs as well as when physicians should have freedom to act according to the dictates of conscience while still protecting patients’ interests.
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