Jonathan Montgomery – Conscientious Objection, Professional Ethics and the Public Sphere



Event Date: 26 September 2015
Barts Pathology Museum
Robin Brook Centre
West Smithfield
London EC1A 7BE


A cross-disciplinary Symposium at Barts Pathology Museum

Prof Jonathan Montgomery (Faculty of Laws, UCL) –  Conscientious Objection, Professional Ethics and the Public Sphere

Conscience matters deeply, but professional roles are not merely personal. They involve shared identities, values and responsibilities. We all have multiple roles and identities. Professor Bernhardi is at once a doctor and a Jew, a hospital director and a father. These identities are both personal and archetypal. They are also vocational, as is the role of priest. The ‘calling’ is to something pre-defined, to serve in a particular role. Professional conscience can never be a truly private matter. The four acts illuminate the interplay between roles and expectations; changing by location, time and space, including the degree to which they can accommodate personal adaption. The clinic has its own hierarchy of authority. Professor Bernhardi, as doctor, is in charge. There is no place for conscientious objection. The focus is on matters of the body. The patient becomes a person only when the priest challenges the jurisdiction of the doctor, and in response Professor Bernardi becomes her protector. Professor Bernhardi the Director has different responsibilities. The reputation of his hospital matters. He can contemplate an apology now that time is not critical. It is about the ‘big picture’ and the conflict is portrayed within grand battles; faith against science, darkness against light. We should encourage full, unconstrained, conscientious engagement in such debates. In the Hospital Board Room, the play makes comedy of the rivalries and factions of hospital life, but it also models a process of negotiation over the resolution of competing claims. We should respect conscience in service organization, but balance it with patient’s rights. Finally, in the privacy of Professor Bernhardi’s home, the doctor and priest might unburden themselves of their roles in favour of an underlying common humanity. In fact, the attempt to do so collapses and they cannot avoid their public identities.



The text of the paper is available on the UCL research database,


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