Charles Williams considers whether doctors have a right to stand by their moral convictions
In October 2007 a small number of UK Muslim medical students made the headlines for missing lectures about sexually transmitted diseases and alcohol on moral grounds.1 In November a general practitioner, Tammie Downes, was investigated by the General Medical Council after disclosing in a newspaper interview her success in dissuading several women from having abortions.2
These stories highlight a conflict between morality and medicine. What are we to make of doctors whose morals compel them to opt out of certain tasks? Judgmental moralisers? Work shy cowards? Or courageous individuals who risk career progression for higher ideals?
One flash point in the morals-medicine minefield is abortion. Before 1967 abortion was illegal in the United Kingdom but was widely practised, unsafely, in unhygienic backstreet “clinics.” The Abortion Act 1967 decriminalised abortion in certain circumstances. The act also includes a clause that states that “no person shall be under any duty, whether by