Is it only Christians who take refuge in conscientious objection?
Rows over conscientious objection, at least in the Anglosphere, have revolved around reproductive rights and euthanasia. What about LGBT rights? Do healthcare workers have a right to object to providing procedures like IVF to LGBT individuals?
In a provocative article in Bioethics Abram Brummett, of St Louis University (Missouri), concludes that their claims would be very weak. It is a challenging contribution to a new battleground over conscientious objection.
What kind of people would seek refuge in conscientious objection? Brummett seems to believe that they would all be Christians who contend that “God has decreed the LGBT lifestyle to be sinful”. This pits what he calls a “naturalized metaphysic” against a Christian metaphysic. He believes that the validity of conscientious objection arguments crashes because the Christian metaphysic cannot prove that dignitary and material harms to LGBT individuals are bad:
Naturalism provides a broader context within which to define what harms should constitute the threshold by which we constrain behaviour. Naturalistically construed harms are those harms that occur within the world we find ourselves as opposed to supernatural harms that are claimed to result in such things as ‘sin’, or the violation of ‘God's will’ or a threatened ability to achieve ‘salvation’ in some other worldly realm. A naturalistic construal of harm is to always take priority over supernatural views of harm …
Naturalism gives us the basis from which to say what many have thought all along; that denying religiously based claims of conscience that would bring harm to others is all right because such claims are grounded in metaphysical beliefs that are highly unlikely to be true.
Of course, as it is expressed in the article, the success of Brummett’s critique – which is widely accepted in popular debates about moral issues – hinges on his understanding of a “Christian metaphysic”. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy points out, “The word ‘metaphysics’ is notoriously hard to define.” Some Christians, especially those who accept a natural law ethic, would not recognise Brummett’s antithesis as valid. On the one hand, they would agree that an analysis of conscientious objection should include “naturalistic harms”; on the other, they would say that notions such as sin and salvation are theological and not metaphysical at all.
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