Over at The Hastings Center’s Bioethics Forum blog, there’s an interesting post from Rosana Triviño addressing the difference between conscientious refusal and civil disobedience, in relation to Spain’s new law limiting care for undocumented immigrants. This links nicely to some conversation we’ve been having here at Bill of Health as to whether conscientious refusals and actions ought to be thought of similarly and granted similar protections.
One thing I’m puzzling over is the relevance (or not) of institutional support for the conscientious behavior in question. So in Spain, several medical organizations have encouraged physicians to avoid withdrawing care from undocumented immigrants, and of course in the US and elsewhere, there are many groups that encourage physicians not to perform abortions and other controversial services. Does institutional involvement make something look more like civil disobedience? I think the answer is “kind of.”
Ultimately, something is clearly civil disobedience when refusers or actors – 1 or 100 or 1000 – violate the law on the books for conscientious reasons. But where numbers or institutions can matter is when refusers refuse on grounds of conscience to do something that is legal but not required. Their refusals are not violating the law, individually or collectively, and there is no technical disobedience. But when there are enough refusals to do what the law allows, the law may as well say something different. And particularly when those refusals are coordinated in some way to prevent access to what the law allows, things start to look a lot more like civil disobedience. So conscientious violation of law seems to be sufficient but not necessary for civil disobedience, which on a broad view could also include efforts to sabotage or impede a law through collective inaction.
What do you think?