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Why Conscience Matters:
A defense of Conscientious Objection
in Healthcare

comments from participants

...your dedication and commitment to restoring balance to higher education is a real inspiration and offers a ray of hope in these polarized, contentious times ...
best wishes for your continued success!
 + Michigan Faculty
The room was full of intellectual heavyweights, from U of M medical students to fellow bioethicists, ready to challenge Dr Symons. It was a breath of fresh air after 4 years of undergrad that seemingly dismissed this form of debate and discussion... 
+ Recent Michigan Alum
It's awesome to have this on campus!
+ Michigan Faculty
Thank you for tonight's talk. Such an encouraging, enjoyable evening with lovely people.
+ Michigan Faculty


Conscience and debates surrounding its prerogatives are an ongoing source of conflict in our society.  The conflict centers on contradictory and mutually exclusive understandings of human moral agency, making conversations around conscience and conscientious objection difficult. 


One group equates the conscience simply as the right of an autonomous individual to exercise any moral choice, as long as others are not harmed. Moral “truth” is subjective, defined by each individual will, and limited or constrained selectively only by social “consensus”. Majority opinion defines what is morally acceptable. From this perspective, persons who have moral qualms about cooperating in action they understand to be wrong may be coerced to comply or removed from the exercise of their profession.


Another group understands conscience as a transcendent human capacity for moral discernment. It is the "voice of God" within the human heart. Attentiveness to the interior voice of the Creator helps human beings to pass judgement on a particular moral question, but not to define what is “right” or “wrong” per se.  From this perspective, moral “truth” is objective, not defined by an individual will, but located over and above it, and so moral truths are discernible by means of rational deliberation and training in virtues: we can discern “good” and “evil” through the careful examination of experiences or choices that lead either to human flourishing or to destruction.

So how are we to live out the experience of human moral agency?  What are health care professionals to do when confronted with conflicts of conscience? Join us and Professor Xavier Symons for a thoughtful consideration of these important questions...  Registration is required!

November 1, 2023
the michigan LEAGUE
Michigan room

Symons headshot 2_edited.jpg

Xavier Symons

Professor Symons is a bioethicist, Fulbright Scholar and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University's Institute for Quantitative Social Science.


A native of Australia, he holds a BA Advanced (Honors) and an an MA (Research) in Philosophy from the University of Sydney,  an MSt in Practical Ethics from the University of Oxford, and a PhD in Philosophy from the Australian Catholic University. He also served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Plunkett Center for Ethics in Sydney. Before moving to Harvard in 2022, he was a scholar in residence at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics of Georgetown University.


A prolific author, Symons published "Why conscience matters: A defence of conscientious objection in healthcare" (Routledge) in 2022. University of Michigan students and faculty may download a copy of Professor Symons' book here.

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The ACademic DEbates

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