Understanding freedom of conscience

by Brian Bird, Policy Options, 2 August 2017

Conscience is about living in alignment with our moral judgments, regardless of where they come from.

If moral freedom is what freedom of conscience protects, why we protect this freedom boils down to the fact that conscience touches on core moral commitments that sustain our identity and integrity — who I am and what I stand for.  Professionals faced with a crisis of conscience have two unattractive choices: resign or violate these commitments. If they choose the latter, they commit a harmful act of self-betrayal.  The concept of “moral injury” has been studied in the context of military personnel who return home after committing acts on the battlefield that violated their moral compass. Moral injury can also occur in less harrowing circumstances.  A physician in Ontario, Natalia Novosedlik,  revealed in an interview that she violated her conscience by making an effective referral — a decision that, after the fact, caused a “really internally divisive experience” for her.

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