Bioethics 33 (1):154-161 (2019)

Doug McConnell
Oxford University
Daniel Sulmasy has recently argued that good medicine depends on physicians having a wide discretionary space in which they can act on their consciences. The only constraints Sulmasy believes we should place on physicians’ discretionary space are those defined by a form of tolerance he derives from Locke whereby people can publicly act in accordance with their personal religious and moral beliefs as long as their actions are not destructive to society. Sulmasy also claims that those who would reject physicians’ right to conscientious objection eliminate discretionary space thus undermining good medicine and unnecessarily limiting religious freedom. I argue that, although Sulmasy is correct that some discretionary space is necessary for good medicine, he is wrong in thinking that proscribing conscientious objection entails eliminating discretionary space. I illustrate this using Julian Savulescu and Udo Schuklenk’s system for restricting conscientious objections as a counter-example. I then argue that a narrow discretionary space constrained by professional ideals will promote good medicine better than Sulmasy’s wider discretionary space constrained by his conception of tolerance. Sulmasy’s version of discretionary space would have us tolerate actions that are at odds with aspects of good medicine, including aspects that Sulmasy himself explicitly values, such as fiduciary duty. Therefore, if we want the degree of religious freedom in the public sphere that Sulmasy favours then we must decide whether it is worth the cost to the healthcare system.
Keywords Locke  conscience  religious tolerance
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DOI 10.1111/bioe.12477
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Internal Morality of Medicine and Physician Autonomy.Stephen McAndrew - 2019 - Journal of Medical Ethics 45 (3):198-203.

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