Further clarity on cooperation and morality

Journal of Medical Ethics 43 (4):192-200 (2017)
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I explore the increasingly important issue of co-operation in immoral actions, particularly in connection with health care. Conscientious objection, especially as pertains to religious freedom in health care, has become a pressing issue in the light of the US Supreme Court judgment in Hobby Lobby. Section 2 outlines a theory of co-operation inspired by Catholic moral theologians such as those cited by the Court. The theory has independent plausibility and is at least worthy of serious consideration – in part because it is an instance of double-effect reasoning, which is also independently plausible despite its association with moral theology. Section 3 examines Hobby Lobby in detail. Even if the judgment was correct in that case, the reasoning was not, as it involved applying a ‘mere sincerity’ test to the co-operation question. The mere sincerity test leads to absurd consequences, whereas a reasonableness test applied using the theory of co-operation defended here would avoid absurdity. Section 4 explores the post-Hobby Lobby problem further, examining opt-outs and accommodations: the Little Sisters of the Poor case shows how opt-outs are misunderstood on a mere sincerity test, which the court rightly rejected. Section 5 discusses the UK case of Doogan and Wood, concerning participation in abortion. Again, a judicially-recognised ethic of co-operation, if it were part of the fabric of legal reasoning in such cases, would have enabled the conscientious objectors in this and similar situations to have their freedom of conscience and religion respected in a way that it currently is not.



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David S. Oderberg
University of Reading

References found in this work

Moral Theory.David S. Oderberg - 2001 - Mind 110 (438):531-534.
The Ethics of Co-Operation in Wrongdoing.David Simon Oderberg - 2004 - Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 54:203-227.
Man as Man, the Science and Art of Ethics.T. J. Higgins - 1950 - Philosophy 25 (95):368-370.

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