Institutional non‐participation in assisted dying: Changing the conversation

Bioethics 33 (1):207-214 (2018)
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Abstract

Whether institutions and not just individual doctors have a right to not participate in medical assistance in dying (MAID) is controversial, but there is a tendency to frame the issue of institutional non‐participation in a particular way. Conscience is central to this framing. Non‐participating health centres are assumed to be religious and full participation is expected unless a centre objects on conscience grounds. In this paper we seek to reframe the issue. Institutional non‐participation is plausibly not primarily, let alone exclusively, about conscience. We seek to reframe the issue by making two main points. First, institutional non‐participation is primarily a matter of institutional self‐governance. We suggest that institutions have a natural right of self‐governance which, in the case of health centres such as hospitals or hospices, includes the right to choose whether or not to offer MAID. Second, there are various legitimate reasons unrelated to conscience for which a health centre might not offer MAID. These range from considerations such as institutional capacity and expertise to a potential contradiction with palliative care and a concern to not conflate palliative care and MAID in public consciousness. It is a mistake to frame the conversation simply in terms of conscience‐based opposition to MAID or full participation. Our goal is to open up new space in the conversation, for reasons unrelated to conscience as well as for non‐religious health centres who might nonetheless have legitimate grounds for not participating in MAID.

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