Freedom of Conscience


Most people would agree that people should be able to live freely in accordance with their conscience. This is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to do when you belong to a regulated profession. Doctors and other professionals now have their very careers at stake when they speak up for what they believe.

Australians who work in regulated professions and who provide services in areas where their convictions could be challenged need to be aware of the risks involved and the limits that have been placed on their ability to act in accordance with their conscience.

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Here are some general answers to common questions about freedom of conscience.

In general, if you are providing a service in an Australian state or territory you cannot deny the provision of that service to someone on the basis of their sexuality. If you do this you could have someone bring a discrimination complaint against you.

Professionals like doctors will usually have a whole body of law, regulation and codes of conduct that apply to professional practice. The law recognises the importance of an individual’s right to act in accordance with their conscience, but it balances this against a patient’s right to access to treatment. You should be aware of the codes of conduct and rules that apply to you exercising your conscience rights. These rules can differ between states and territories. In some jurisdictions a doctor may be able to not provide the service themselves, but must refer the patient to another doctor who can. If you find yourself in a very difficult situation and are not sure how you can act, you can contact a lawyer for specific advice.