To be or not to be (conscientious objectors). Debate report by Lucina De Paolis

Last week our class debate focused on the motion whether doctors have the right to object to an abortion or not. The for team spoke in favour of the right of doctors to make conscientious objection while the other group spoke against this right, therefore in favour of women’s right to have an abortion. Both teams were composed of three members and each of them spoke for about five minutes explaining their reasons for being in one team or in the other.

The team arguing in favour of doctors’ right to be conscientious objectors, namely, allowing for doctors to refuse to carry out an abortion on women who request it via the public health-care service, showed the Hippocratic Oath and made a comparison between the old version of the oath, where doctors were forbidden to perform abortion in any case, and the modern version of the text in which doctors are given the right and free choice to perform or not the abortion, paying attention to sensitive situations where the life of the pregnant woman could be in danger. I found all the speakers well informed on the topic and I really appreciated the mention and the distribution of the Hippocratic Oath so as to give everyone the opportunity to understand what they were talking about.

The team speaking against doctors’ right to conscientious objection argued that this refusal is not only a violation of women’s right to an abortion for whatever reason (whether this is because of health issues or economic problems), but also a violation of medical ethics because the refusal is seen as an unprofessional act of imposing their own personal beliefs on patients. They also focused on the fact that in Italy abortion is legal, and consequently women should always be allowed to have an abortion if they request it. Also in this case, I thought that the speakers had collected useful and interesting information to defend their position and managed to explain it clearly.

One point on which both teams focused was a comparison between Italian system and other countries’ procedures. It is indeed striking that both teams talked about the differences in, for example, the Italian and the British codes. In the former, as stated above, doctors are given the right not to perform an abortion without consequences on their careers. In the latter, doctors are not legally required to carry on an interruption of pregnancy, but they are required to refer the patient to other doctors who perform the medical procedure . However, some research shows that in some countries, conscientious objectors working in the health-care service might undergo discrimination during the hiring process if they profess to be objectors.

At the end of the debate, the audience was supposed to ask questions, but in this particular case there were none. Consequently, the chair carried on to the vote and most of the audience, including me, voted for the team speaking against the right of doctors to refuse to carry on an abortion.

In my opinion, having voted for the team speaking against conscientious objection, women should always be allowed to undergo an abortion if they request it, especially if this kind of procedure is legal and guaranteed by the public health-care service. On the other hand, I don’t really agree on discrimination during the hiring process. Perhaps the solution lies somewhere in the middle – a model like the British one, for example, seems fair and a good solution for all concerned.


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