Special Section: Open Forum

Conscience-Based Exemptions for Medical Students


Just as physicians can object to providing services due to their ethical and/or religious beliefs, medical students can have conscience-based objections to participating in educational activities. In 1996, the Medical Student Section of the American Medical Association (AMA) introduced a resolution calling on the AMA to adopt a policy in support of exemptions for students with ethical or religious objections. In that report, students identified abortion, sterilization, and procedures performed on animals as examples of activities that might prompt requests for conscience-based exemptions (CBEs). In response to the student initiative, the Council on Medical Education recommended the adoption of seven “principles to guide exemption of medical students from activities based on conscience.” The House of Delegates adopted these principles in their entirety.

Mark R. Wicclair, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy and Adjunct Professor of Community Medicine, West Virginia University, and Adjunct Professor of Medicine, Part-Time Instructor of Bioethics and Center for Bioethics and Health Law Faculty, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.