What people mean when they say, “I can’t do that, it violates my conscience”

Raymond G. De Vries, PhD

"Conscience clause” legislation, first enacted following Roe v. Wade, intends to protect a health care provider’s (HCP) right to refuse services on the basis of conscience. And yet, 40 years later, the precise meaning of conscience is not well understood. When conscience is defined, it is in abstract, theoretical terms that are removed from the meaning of conscience in day-to-day practice. We use a sociological perspective to challenge this asocial depiction: while individuals act on their consciences, one’s conscience has a social basis. Using interviews with 61 care providers we identify the social basis of conscience and how health care providers understand it in their everyday practice, examining the conditions under which conscience is invoked in the process of deciding whether or not to perform a medical procedure. University of Michigan “conscience” research team collaborators: Lisa Harris, MD, PhD; Danielle Czarnecki, MA; Mercedes Dunn, BA; Katie Hauschildt, BA; Renee Anspach, PhD.
Raymond G. De Vries, PhD
Co-Director, Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine; Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Michigan
Recorded April 15, 2015


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