The Supreme Court’s doctor-assisted suicide decision gives greater urgency to the concerns of physicians who are fighting to maintain conscience rights in Ontario and Saskatchewan.
Feb. 20 was the deadline for feedback to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario on a draft policy — “Professional Obligations and Human Rights” — proposing to force Ontario physicians to refer for and potentially even carry out abortions, prescriptions for contraceptives, and assisted suicide. The deadline for feedback to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan is March 6. Under both proposals, physicians who do not participate or refer for abortifacients or abortion will be convicted of professional misconduct. The CPSO is also garnering feedback on a new end-of-life care draft policy.
The CPSO policy proposal explicitly dismisses conscience rights as “personal values and beliefs” which should be subordinated to “clinical” beliefs guided by dictates of the College.
Several medical and religious groups are pushing back against the proposed changes, including the Christian Medical and Dental Society, the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies, the Protection of Conscience Project, and the Catholic Organization for Life and Family.
CMDS executive director Larry Worthen warns “The proposed policy demands that doctors refer for, and in some cases actually perform, procedures like birth control, abortion and even euthanasia.” He said if the proposals are accepted by the colleges, “physicians would have to perform these procedures when the regulator considers them to be ‘urgent or otherwise necessary to prevent imminent harm, suffering and/or deterioration.” Worthen said, “Doctors who cannot participate due to deeply held moral or religious commitments will be vulnerable to punishment from the regulator, even though their fundamental freedom of conscience and religion is guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
COLF warned the proposals “would be devastating for Ontario doctors who seek to inform their consciences by their faith” and that if okayed could lead to doctors leaving either the province to practice medicine or leave medicine altogether.
Worthen told LifeSiteNews that many doctors will quit rather than violate their conscience. He said many doctors are in medicine precisely because of their religious values.
In its submission to the CPSO, Alliance for Life Ontario said, “There are ways to accommodate both patient and doctor, and pressuring good physicians with religious, ethical or moral objections out of health care is not one of them.”
In its submission to the CPSO, the Protection of Conscience project said there was no need for the proposed violations of conscience and called them “a dangerous and extraordinarily authoritarian policy, completely at odds with liberal democratic aspirations and our national traditions.”
The Saskatchewan proposal has already been accepted by the CPSS in principle before the consultation process. Saskatoon emergency room doctor Philip Fitzpatrick said the new policy “is moral genocide” and that “there’s no medical reason for these clauses overriding our consciences.” He accused supporters of abortion and euthanasia of “trying to chase us out of the profession” simply because these doctors disagree with them.
Worthen said patients do not “have a right to receive every service from every doctor,” noting that many doctors limit the services they provide patients.
In the Carter case decided last month, the Supreme Court said its decision does not require doctors to carry out assisted-suicide requests, but suggested that rules governing patient-doctor relationships in such cases would be left to the provinces and regulatory bodies.