Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University

Conscience and Conscientious Objection in Health Care


Location: Dunmore Lang College, 130 Herring Rd, Macquarie University, Macquarie Park, NSW 2113

Date:      11-12th September, 2017

Charles Sturt University School of Humanities and Social Sciences in association with the Macquarie University Research Centre for Agency, Values, and Ethics (CAVE) will host a conference on the role of conscience and conscientious objection in healthcare.

International speakers
  • Piers Benn (Heythrop College, University of London)
  • Carolyn McLeod (Western University, Ontario, Canada)
  • Julian Savulescu (University of Oxford)
Domestic speakers
  • Steve Clarke (Charles Sturt University)
  • Tony Coady (University of Melbourne)
  • Dan Cohen (Charles Sturt University)
  • Jim Franklin (UNSW)
  • Jeanette Kennett (Macquarie University)
  • Doug McConnell (Charles Sturt University)
  • Bernadette Tobin (ACU)

The conference aims to analyse the role of 'conscience' in the healthcare profession and the restrictions, if any, that should be placed on conscientious objection. Conscientious objection by health professionals has become one of the most pressing problems in healthcare ethics. Health professionals are often required to perform activities, such as abortion, that conflict with their own moral or religious beliefs. Their refusal can make it difficult for patients to have access to services they have a right to and can, more generally, create conflicts in the doctor-patient relationship. The widening of the medical options available today or in the near future is likely to increase and sharpen these conflicts. The conference will see the participation of experts in bioethics, philosophy, law and medicine, who will explore the topic of conscientious objection from secular, religious and feminist perspectives, and try to suggest solutions.

Participation is free and registration will open later in the year. Contact Doug McConnell for more information at

Organizers: Doug McConnell (Charles Sturt University), Jeanette Kennett (Macquarie University), and Steve Clarke (Charles Sturt University).

The conference is supported by Charles Sturt University, the Australian Research Council Discovery Grant, 'Conscience and conscientious objection in healthcare' (DP150102068), and CAVE.

An ARC Discovery Project, running from 2015 to 2017

Summary of project

Conscientious objection is a central topic in bioethics and is becoming more ever important. This is hardly surprising if we consider the liberal trend in developments of policies about abortion and other bioethical issues worldwide. In recent decades the right to abortion has been granted by many countries, and increasingly many conservative and/or religious doctors are being asked to perform an activity that clashes with their deepest moral and/or religious values.

Debates about conscientious objection are set to become more intense given the increase in medical options which are becoming available or may well be available soon (e.g. embryonic stem cell therapies, genetic selection, human bio-enhancement, sex modification), and given the increasingly multicultural and multi-faith character of Australian society. Not only will doctors conscientiously object to abortion, and to practices commonly acknowledged as morally controversial, but some of them may also object to a wide range of new and even established practices that conflict with their personal values for example, Muslim doctors refusing to examine patients of the opposite sex.

Defining conscientious objection and identifying reliable markers for it, as well as setting the boundaries of legitimate conscientious objection through clear and justifiable principles, are difficult but pressing tasks.

This project advances bioethical debate by producing a philosophically and psychologically informed analysis of conscience, and by applying this to discussions about the legitimate limits to conscientious objection in health care.


Chief Investigator Dr Steve Clarke, Charles Sturt University

Chief Investigator Prof. Jeanette Kennett, Macquarie University

Partner Investigator Prof. Julian Savulescu, University of Oxford 

Project News

Forthcoming conference, 11th and 12th September 2017 at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia  

Project relevant publications

  • Clarke, S., Giubilini, A. and Walker, M. (Online First). Conscientious Objection to Vaccination. Bioethics. Published Online First 23 December 2016, DOI: 10.1111/bioe.12326.
  • Clarke, S. (Online First). Conscientious Objection in Healthcare, Referral and the Military Analogy. Journal of Medical Ethics. Published Online First 29 September 2016, doi:10.1136/medethics-2016-103777.
  • Kennett, J. (2017). The Cost of Conscience: Kant on Conscience and Conscientious Objection. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 26 (1),  pp. 69-81.
  • Clarke, S. (2017). Two Concepts of Conscience and their Implications for Conscience-based Refusal in Healthcare. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 26 (1), pp. 97-108.
  • Giubilini, A. and Savulescu, J. (2017). Guest editorial: conscientious objection in healthcare; problems and perspectives, Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 26, 1: pp. 3-5
  • Savulescu, J., and Schuklenk, U. (2016) Doctors Have No Right to Refuse Medical Assistance in Dying, Abortion or Contraception. Bioethics
  • Giubilini, A. 2016. Objection to conscience. An argument against conscience exemptions in healthcare, Bioethics, Early View 23 Dec 2016
  • Giubilini, A. 2016. Conscientious objection and medical tribunals, Journal of Medical Ethics, 42: 78-79
  • Giubilini, A. 2016. Conscience, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (Spring 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

Edited Collection 

  • Giubilini, A. and J. Savulescu (eds), Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics: Special issue on conscientious objection in healthcare (1) 2017.

Past Conferences

 Media Output

  • Clarke, S (2017). Podcast and Article: 'No Jab? Make an Appropriate Contribution to Society Instead: Paper. Nursing Review, February 8.
  • Clarke, S (2017). Podcast: 'Exploring vaccination objectors' ethical obligations to the community', Campus Review. February 7.
  • Clarke, S (2017). Radio interview : 'No Jab, No Pay' 6PR Mornings (Perth, Western Australia). February 7.
  • Clarke, S (2017). 'Call to Penalise Jab Objectors', The Western Australian (Perth, Western Australia). February 7.
  • Clarke, S (2017). Radio interview on Conscientious Objection to Vaccination. 'Deek', B-Rock (Bathurst, New South Wales), Interview on conscientious objection to vaccination, February 6.
  • Savulescu, J. (2016). Families shouldn't be allowed to veto organ donation. The Conversation. With William Isdale. January 5.
  • Savulescu, J. (2016). Should Doctors Have the Right to Conscientiously Object? Health Report. ABC Radio National and podcast on ABC Online, August 29

 Media Responses to the Project

  • August 2016, 'Bioethicist calls for a ban on doctors' conscientious objection' appeared in over 100 print media sources throughout Australia.
  • September 2016. The Ethics of Conscientious Objection in Healthcare. ABC Religion and Ethics responds to article by Julian Savulescu.
  • September 2016. Marni Soupcoff: Doctors needed. Leave your conscience at home. National Post.
  • September 2016. Bioethicists Say Doctors Should be Forced to Do Abortions and If They Quit, "So Be It".

Government Consultation

Public Lectures, Seminars, and Workshop Presentations

  • Savulescu, J. 26 November 2016. Public Lecture: Responsibility, Conscientious Objection and Healthcare. Jean-Jacques Rousseau Annual Conference. Keele University
  • Savulescu, J. 30 August 2016. Public Lecture: Conscientious Objection and Value Pluralism in Medicine. QUT, Brisbane.
  • Savulescu, J.  6 December 2016. Late Termination of Pregnancy. Royal Women's Hospital and Monash Women's Joint Termination Review Panel Meeting. Advice on Ethics., Melbourne, Australia
  • Savulescu, J. 4 December 2016. End of Life issues. Monash Bioethics Retreat, Melbourne
  • Savulescu, J. 2 September 2016. Doctors Have No Right to Refuse Medical Assistance in Dying, Abortion or Contraception. Conscience and Conscientious Objection Workshop, Canberra, Australia
  • Savulescu, J. 7 June 2016. Conscientious Objection, Brocher Foundation, Switzerland.
  • Savulescu, J. 23 November 2015. Conscience, Values, and a Reasonable Range of Options. Conscience and Conscientious Objection in Healthcare. Oxford

Julian Savulescu's Conscientious Objection Talks and Media Visits

Public Lecture

30 August 2016. Public Lecture: Conscientious Objection and Value Pluralism in Medicine. QUT, Brisbane.

More information:


29 August 2016. Should Doctors Have the Right to Conscientiously Object? Health Report. ABC Radio National and podcast on ABC Online.

More information:

Print Media

Bioethicist calls for a ban on doctors' conscientious objection appeared in over 100 print media sources throughout Australia.

Doctors working in the public system should be banned from refusing to perform certain procedures, such as abortions, because of their religious

...Savulescu will make the argument at a public lecture at the Queensland University of Technology's Australian Centre for Health Law Research next...


29 August 2016. Consensus Statement on Conscientious Objection . Practical Ethics in the News.

More inforomation: