Physicians for life has indicted the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) for consistently misrepresenting the true beliefs of Canada’s doctors with respect to abortion.

Dr. Ranalli

On August 21, Physicians for Life mounted a press conference simultaneously in eleven cities across Canada. In Toronto, Dr. Paul Ranalli, a neurologist at York Finch General Hospital and president of that city’s chapter of Physicians for Life, charged that the CMA would rather depend on a carefully selected committee of five doctors to indicate the abortion views of its 43,000 members.

Yet when Physicians for life – whose 4,500 members are also members of the CMA – recently asked the CMA to co-operate in conducting a poll to determine more accurately the opinions of the over 50,000 doctors in Canada regarding abortion, it said no.

When Physicians for Life asked the CMA if a survey prepared by the Physicians for Life could be included in their regular mail-out to their members, it said no.

When Physicians for Life asked the CMA if it would co-operate with the phrasing of the questions and the funding of their survey to their members, the answer was again no.

So much for democracy, so much for fair play, so much for input, so much for justice. But this isn’t surprising from a group which at its August 1989 convention in Quebec City refused to allow a debate on two resolutions that challenged their pro-abortion position.

Abortion, stated Dr. Ranalli, is not an “executive” issue. The full membership of the CMA has a right to have a say on such a significant issue.

Therefore Physicians for Life decided to send out their own survey on August 14 and fund it themselves at a cost of $30,000, he reported. They are now completing the largest survey of doctors, (including a sampling of many non-CMA doctors) ever attempted in Canada. At the time of the press conference they had receive over 5,000 replies on which 2,150 questionnaires had been tabulated. The slowness of the response is due to summer holidays and Ranalli feels that the final close-out for evaluation the survey might be as late as October.

The last time the CMA surveyed its membership on abortion was in 1983. Despite a bias in favour of abortion in the way questions were constructed – no cat/gory was provided for the physicians who disapproved of abortion in principle – a significant opposition to abortion on demand emerged even then. Fewer than half of physicians supported abortion on demand in the first trimester and only eleven per cent supported it beyond the first trimester.

Although it has been the “official” CMA position since 1971 that abortion should be a matter between “a woman and her physician,” only 29 per cent of doctors selected this option on the 1983 survey.

So far the Physicians for Life survey appears to be confirming that only 29 per cent of doctors think abortion should be legal in all circumstances. Fully 58 per cent do not believe that the moral justification for abortion changes according to gestational age. Sixty per cent of doctors do not consider the mental stress associated with an unplanned pregnancy to warrant “treatment” by abortion.

Dr. Smyth

Dr. Harley Smyth, a neuro-surgeon at Toronto’s Wellesley Hospital, with degrees in medicine and philosophy, also spoke at the press conference. “It is evident,” he said, “that in the current debate a few individual are beyond the reach of reasoned argument and are immune to self-evident facts of a scientific nature… A great many Canadians are undecided on this issue, and this indecision is often rooted in confusion and even in some cases ignorance about the plain facts of human development.”

Smyth offered a chilling conclusion to his remarks, “If individual human beings are biological accidents with no intrinsic value or worth, then this doctrine invites democracy to raise the cup of poison to its own lips, for there is no remaining reason why rights and freedoms are important.”