Excerpt:

Not too long ago, the ethics of medicine were pretty straightforward. Inspired by the Hippocratic Oath, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical professionals generally followed the "do no harm" maxim, seeing themselves (ideally) as duty-bound to protect and preserve all human life.

But times have changed. Society has grown increasingly morally pluralistic, while at the same time medical technology has advanced, making the work of medical professionals far more complicated. For example, abortion is now considered a right throughout most of the West, but many physicians conscientiously object to participating in taking the lives of fetuses. Many gay couples use in-vitro fertilization, surrogacy, and sophisticated artificial insemination procedures to have children, while some fertility doctors resist participating for moral reasons. With health care cost-cutting coming strongly to the fore, most mainstream bioethicists want to grant doctors the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment they consider "futile" because it is expensive to merely "extend the time of dying."

These moral conflicts have sparked an increasingly heated bioethical controversy: Whether—and to what extent—medical professionals have a right of conscience to refuse their services based on religious or moral objections to what the patient desires.


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