Report by the American Medical Associationís Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs on Physiciansí 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 patientsí 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 patientsí needs and preferences first may be in tension with the need to sustain the sense of moral integrity and continuity that grounds a physicianís personal and professional life.

      This article examines the implications for patients, physicians, and the medical profession when tensions arise between a physicianís professional commitments and his or her deeply held personal moral beliefs. It offers guidance on when a physicianís 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 patientsí interests.




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