The compromise of conscience: Conscientious objection in healthcare
This paper discusses a medical practitioner’s right to conscientiously object to providing a legally available healthcare service in New Zealand, on the grounds of their personal beliefs. Currently, the right to conscientiously object is enshrined in the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 and the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act. This paper argues the current legislative arrangement regulating a health practitioner’s right to conscientiously object under New Zealand law is vague, and risks cementing uncertainty, due to scope of the protection being unclear. In addition, the current protection risks patient safety, as it does not exclude the right to conscientiously object in medical emergencies, or when the efficacy of the treatment is time dependent. To remedy this unsatisfactory situation, it is recommended that the right to conscientiously object in healthcare be rendered impermissible in the aforementioned scenarios. It is further recommended that direct referral to a non-objecting colleague be mandatory in the event a practitioner wishes to exercise their right to conscientiously object. This is because access to healthcare may be compromised by a practitioner exercising the right to conscientiously object, with no corresponding direct referral requirement, a risk borne by patients.