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The medical conscience clause in the light of effectiveness of human rights. Theory. Law. Praxis


Zomerski, Wojciech

Subject and Keywords:

conscience clause ; freedom of religion and belief ; medical profession ; effectiveness of human rights ; European Court of Human Rights ; natural law ; positivism


On 7 October 2015 the Constitutional Tribunal of the Republic of Poland in its ruling (K 12/14) adopted a broad concept of medical conscience clause and held that Article 39 of the Medical Profession Act violated Article 53 paragraph 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland in the regard that has obligated a physician quoting the conscience clause to provide a patient with information on actual possibility to obtain a given service from another physician. In my paper I criticize the cited ruling and argue that the above-mentioned duty has not unduly limited physicians’ freedom of belief, but aimed to protect freedom of belief of both – physicians and patients. In the first place, I conduct a reconstruction of two theoretical approaches concerning the medical conscience clause. Subsequently, I present the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights concerning the analyzed institution. In the second part of this paper I criticize the above-mentioned ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal by showing that by absolutization of freedom of belief granted to physicians, the Tribunal has ignored and therefore deprived patients of the very same freedom. In my opinion, a physician who refuses to inform a patient about actual possibility to obtain a given medical service no longer exercises his or her rights granted by freedom of belief, but violates moral integrity of a patient. In a given situation, a patient does make a just – in the eyes of a physician – decision, not because he or she shares values with his or her physician, but only because of being made incapable of acting in accordance to his or her will. I also point out that the ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal led to secondary unconstitutionality of Article 39 of the Medical Profession Act. In the conclusion I adopt a view that we have to depart from the concept of conscience clause based on either iusnaturalism or positivism and move on towards an alternative approach. Agreeing that general freedom of belief derives from natural law, I adopt a view that its scope has to be limited by the effectiveness of individual rights and freedoms of a patient. It seems that absolutization of rights of one group of citizens inevitably leads to deprivation of analogical laws granted to another group of citizens. Such state of affairs is irreconcilable with the concept of liberal democracy and effectiveness of individual rights and freedoms.

Place of publishing:



E-Wydawnictwo. Prawnicza i Ekonomiczna Biblioteka Cyfrowa. Wydział Prawa, Administracji i Ekonomii Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego


Górnicki, Leonard. Red.

Date issued:


Detailed Type:





ISSN 2450-3932


pol ; eng

WUL Catalog:

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Folia Iuridica Wratislaviensis

Rights holder:

Copyright by Wojciech Zomerski

Location of original object:

Library of the Faculty of Law, Administration and Economics

Autor opisu:

WR U/PAdjm ; TK