Conscientious objection is a term commonly associated with members of the military who refuse to take part in military service on moral or religious grounds. However, this refusal of service is occurring more frequently in medicine as well when practitioners are faced with patient requests for abortion, sterilization, emergency contraception, and terminal sedation.

In his latest book titled “Conscientious Objection in Health Care: An Ethical Analysis,” Mark Wicclair, professor of philosophy at West Virginia University, offers a thorough account of conscientious objection in health care from a clinical and philosophical standpoint.

“This is the culmination of a project that began more than a decade ago when I wrote the first of several articles on the subject of conscientious objection in health care,” Wicclair said. “My interest in the subject was stimulated by what struck me at the time as a paradox.”

He observed that ethical guidelines on forgoing life-sustaining treatment typically stated that clinicians were not obligated to follow those guidelines if they were contrary to a clinician’s personal ethical or religious beliefs, and he observed a similar phenomenon in relation to hospital policies.

“It was my desire to figure out why health care professionals should be permitted to refuse to follow recognized ethical guidelines that stimulated my interest in the subject of conscientious objection in health care,” Wicclair said. “An answer provided in the book is that allowing clinicians to follow their consciences enables them to maintain their moral integrity. However, the value of a clinician’s moral integrity must be balanced against the interests of patients and health care organizations.”

Wicclair’s book has received many positive reviews, and has provided him with many opportunities to share his scholarship both nationally and internationally.

“I thoroughly enjoyed writing the book, and I am of course gratified by the very favorable reviews and awards it has received,” he said. “I have been invited to give several presentations on the subject. I was invited to participate in a workshop on conscience and conscientious objection in Dublin, Ireland, this July.”

In the future, Wicclair will also be serving as a consultant for a committee that is drafting a Canadian policy on conscientious objection in health care, and above all he hopes his work can provide guidance for solving real-world problems.

Mark Wicclair received his doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University, and has authored numerous publications including his first book, “Ethics and the Elderly.” He has also given countless talks and presentations and has served on several hospital ethics committees.

For more information, contact Mark Wicclair, at 304-293-7709 or

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