CO arises when a person refuses to act according to a legal mandate or obligation, or an administrative order, on conscientious grounds, that is, on the basis of reasons for doing what this person believes is right (moral, religious or else), and which are opposed to such an obligation or order. CO reveals a conflict between an individual's moral values and what he or she is being required to do. CO is rarely recognized within the legislations of most countries, and sometimes it is regarded as a phenomenon to be tolerated rather than as a right.
Moral rights are rights that are not necessarily recognized by a positive legal order, but which are valid claims. Thus, although a legal system may not recognize the right to CO, people may demand its recognition in terms of the moral reasons.
The moral justification for recognizing a right to CO can be achieved in two ways, in terms of (1) respect for moral integrity or (2) respect for autonomy.
The first line of moral justification is in terms of respect for moral integrity. Someone has moral integrity when he or she has a set of core moral values or principles and wants to act according to these values. The second line of defence is based on the idea of respect for individual autonomy. Autonomy is the ability each of us has to live our own lives according to the reasons and motives that we take as our own and that are not the product of external forces. Individual autonomy includes our capacity to provide for ourselves the moral values and principles with which we choose to guide our lives.
A common reaction to viewing CO as a right is that recognizing it as a right implies introducing as a legal concept the right to disobey the law, thus undermining the authority of the law and the general obligation to obey it. Recognizing a right to CO implies that those who invoke it would be authorized to disobey any established legal regulations. Anyone could end up invoking this right to disobey any legal rule that he or she thinks goes against his or her moral principles.
# Global Bioethics