Dr. William Pope of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Manitoba recently expressed concern that new federal medical marijuana rules would lead to patients requesting from doctors prescriptions for pot. Dr. Pope’s comments came at the same time that the Ottawa Citizen reported that three Ottawa physicians were being publicly chastised for refusing to prescribe artificial birth control. These stories vividly display the need for the provinces to enact conscience rights legislation, perhaps along the lines proposed by Mississauga lawyer Geoff Cauchi who, in 2011, suggested amending the Ontario Religious Freedom Act “to protect the freedom of conscience of persons who have ethical objections to participating in the delivery of elective forms of health care services, based on a sincerely held religious belief.”
No province has even considered conscience rights since Alberta in 2000 (although Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott made five attempts from 1998 through 2008 to have the House of Commons debate the issue). With the advance of medical technologies and capabilities, and changing laws to permit an ever broader array of morally problematic practices and procedures, it is time for a renewed debate about conscience rights.
As the Culture of Death expands, so do the calls upon medical professionals to act in ways that violate their sincerely held religious and moral beliefs. Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, among others, risk dismissal (and threats of dismissal), demotion, and other forms of employment discrimination because they conscientiously oppose certain practices, from abortion to assisted suicide, from contraception to organ transplants. Not only do these medical professionals face censure (and worse) from their professional organization and the state, but from patients and clients who think that the doctor, nurse, or pharmacist is there to cater to their every whim. The Protection of Conscience Project motto is “service, not servitude,” and that service includes judgements about what is not only medically necessary, but right and just. No medical professional should be forced to choose between their job and their conscience; no medical professional should be required to subjugate their judgement to the demands of their clients.