Do no harm

  • August 28, 2008

{mosimage}The original Hippocratic Oath, once sworn by all doctors entering their esteemed profession, required that its adherents “do no harm” to their patients. Moreover, it insisted that doctors never participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide or do abortions. How things have changed.

As we know, some doctors routinely do abortions today. And a good many doctors think that being involved in euthanasia and assisted suicide should be OK, too. In fact, in some jurisdictions (the Netherlands and Oregon come to mind), it is legal.

But in Ontario, doctors are being cajoled into going another step too far in shedding all those moral trappings found in the Hippocratic Oath. As reported in this issue, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons is preparing a document called “Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code.” This new policy appears to require doctors to contradict their deepest moral and religious beliefs if a patient asks them to do so.

To quote directly from the document:

“Personal beliefs and values and cultural and religious practices are central to the lives of physicians and their patients. However, as a physician’s responsibility is to place the needs of the patient first, there will be times when it may be necessary for physicians to set aside their personal beliefs in order to ensure that patients or potential patients are provided with the medical treatment and services they require.

“Physicians should be aware that decisions to restrict medical services offered, to accept individuals as patients or to end physician-patient relationships that are based on moral or religious belief may contravene the (Human Rights) Code, or constitute professional misconduct.”

Unfortunately, the document tends to confuse the patients’ “needs” with “wants.” A doctor’s traditional responsibility to determine what is best for the patient has now been replaced with that old retail slogan, “the customer is always right.” If this policy is adopted as is, many doctors in Ontario could well be forced to participate in acts they consider morally reprehensible.

This policy by the college is just another in a growing list of examples in which Canadian officialdom is attempting to create a morality-free space in which the only ethic that rules is individual autonomy. Age-old morals, usually founded in religious belief, are being swept aside like yesterday’s table scraps.

The draft policy almost slipped by potential objectors unnoticed in the  lethargy of summer. Fortunately, critics spotted it and demanded — and received — an extension to Sept. 12 of the deadline by which the college is accepting comments.

All pro-life physicians should make sure they let their views be known. The college’s web site is and its phone number is 1 (800) 268-7096, ext. 603. Silence will make us implicit in this new attempt to snuff out personal conscience and religious beliefs as factors in the moral decisions relating to life and death in Ontario.

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