Volume 92, 2018
Philosophy, Catholicism, and Public Life
Jason T. Eberl, Christopher Ostertag
Conscience, Compromise, and Complicity
Debate over whether health care institutions or individual providers should have a legally protected right to conscientiously refuse to offer legal services to patients who request them has grown exponentially due to the increasing legalization of morally contested services. This debate is particularly acute for Catholic health care providers. We elucidate Catholic teaching regarding the nature of conscience and the intrinsic value of being free to act in accord with one’s conscience. We then outline the primary positions defended in this debate and respond to critics of Catholic teaching. In so doing, we show how Catholic health care providers’ claims to conscientiously refuse to offer specific health care services are not essentially faith-based, but are founded upon publicly defensible reasons. We also address the question of whether conscientiously refusing health care providers may become complicit in moral wrongdoing or potentially cause scandal by means of disclosure or referral to another provider.