Medical students support right to ethical objections

  • Date: 26 July 2011

A survey of 733 medical students has found that just under half support the right of doctors to refuse to offer any procedure that conflicts with their personal, moral or religious beliefs.

An article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics reports on the survey in which medical students were asked: “Do you think that doctors should be entitled to object to any procedure for which they have a moral, cultural or religious disagreement?”

Overall, 45 per cent said yes, 14 per cent were unsure and 40 per cent said no. Support was highest among Muslim students at 76 per cent. Across the entire group of medical students, one in five objections were on religious grounds, almost half were on non-religious grounds and around one in three were a mixture of both.

Among 11 specific practices, medical students were least willing to treat patients requesting an abortion.

Dr Sophie Strickland, author of the report said: "In light of increasing demand for abortions, these results may have implications for women's access to abortion services in the future. The Department of Health has issued statistics showing that, although there are an increasing number of abortions taking place in the UK, fewer doctors are willing to perform them."

GMC guidance Personal beliefs and medical practice states that doctors must make patient care their first priority and treat patients with respect whatever their life choices and beliefs.

It states: "If carrying out a particular procedure or giving advice about it conflicts with your religious or moral beliefs, and this conflict might affect the treatment or advice you provide, you must explain this to the patient and tell them they have the right to see another doctor.

"You must be satisfied that the patient has sufficient information to enable them to exercise that right. If it is not practical for a patient to arrange to see another doctor, you must ensure that arrangements are made for another suitably qualified colleague to take over your role."

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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