Volume 30, Issue 2, Fall 2016
Victoria I. Burke
Conscience Exemptions in Medicine
A Hegelian Feminist Perspective
In this paper I defend the view that conscience exemption clauses for medical practitioners (doctors, nurses, technicians, pharmacists) should be limited by patient protection clauses. This view was also defended by Mark Wicclair, in his book on conscience exemptions in medicine (2011). In this article, I defend Wicclair’s view by supplementing it with Hegelian ethical theory and feminist critical theory. Conscience exemptions are important to support as a matter of human rights. They support an individual’s right to protect their deepest value-commitments. A true understanding of conscience is dialectical, however, and it requires patient protection clauses because they too protect individuals in their deepest value-commitments. I show that the defense of patient protection clauses is historically supported by the theory of “conscience [Gewissen]” developed by G. W. F. Hegel in the nineteenth century (mostly in the Phenomenology of Spirit ).