Kelly Block’s C-230, the Protection of Freedom of Conscience Act, had first reading on February 4 and was debated on March 28, but with scheduled breaks including the summer hiatus, it has not yet come up for final vote in the House of Commons. If passed, C-230 would prohibit the firing or refusal to hire medical professionals if the sole reason is their refusal to take part in medical assistance in dying.
Block said she introduced C-230, “in response to requests from numerous disability groups, healthcare workers and other professionals who work with vulnerable groups.” She said that “Freedom of conscience is the first fundamental freedom set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
It is important, Block said, because it “means that every Canadian is free to do what he or she believes is right and true and good.”
Block said that despite being enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the conscience rights of healthcare workers have been “under attack” — and even more so since the legalization of euthanasia in 2015 and especially after the government passed C-7 in March expanding Canada’s euthanasia regime. “Nobody should be forced to die or to facilitate death against their wishes,” Block said, highlighting the importance of her private member’s bill.
She said in one speech, “I am deeply concerned that many medical professionals are experiencing discrimination because of their deeply held ethical beliefs.”
During debate for C-230 on March 28, MPs from the Bloc Quebecois, Liberals, and NDP spoke against the bill, claiming that it was simultaneously unnecessary because conscience rights are already legally protected and dangerous because some patients might be denied services they might seek.
Block noted in June, “Sadly, at that time (regarding the March debate), the speeches by the Liberal, Bloc, and NDP Members indicated that those parties as a whole were not supportive of my bill.” Yet, said Block, “I am still hopeful that there will be some within those parties who will stand up and defend conscience rights for medical professionals.”
If passed, C-230 would amend Section 241.5 (1) of the criminal code to state: “Every person who, for the purpose of compelling a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or other health care professional to take part, directly or indirectly, in the provision of medical assistance in dying, uses coercion or any other form of intimidation, is guilty of an offence.” It would also amend Section 241.5 (2) of the criminal code to state: “Every person who refuses to employ, or dismisses from their employment, a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or other health care professional for the reason only that they refuse to take part, directly or indirectly, in the provision of medical assistance in dying is guilty of an offence.”
Pro-life groups have come out in support of C-230.
Campaign Life Coalition campaigns’ manager David Cooke said in February, “Since euthanasia is not only legal, but it has been decreed an essential health care service, medical professionals are being ordered to provide it – or, at the very least, provide referrals for it.” Cooke said that this places healthcare professionals in conflict with their employers and governing bodies since most provincial professional associations regulating doctors, nurses, and pharmacists do not have comprehensive conscience rights protection. Only Manitoba has enacted legislation enshrining conscience rights at the provincial level with a law that CLC calls the “gold standard in conscience rights” because it forbids professional associations from requiring doctors to refer patients for procedures that they as doctors, nurses, or pharmacists find morally objectionable.
Cooke said, “Conscientious healthcare workers consider euthanasia to be the very antithesis of good medicine,” and “Whether it be for religious, moral, ethical, or common-sense reasons, they believe it is never in the best interests of their patients to be murdered.”
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of Canada, said, “Bill C-230 protects conscience rights for medical professionals by preventing coercion and intimidation to force them to participate in medical assistance in dying and protects employment for medical professionals who conscientiously object to medical assistance in dying.”
Both CLC and EPC launched petitions, and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition also produced postcards to send their MPs in support of C-230.