Ontario needs to right the wrong of dismissing the conscience rights of health workers, writes editorial. Photo by Michael Swan

Editorial: Right the wrong of dismissing health workers' conscience rights

  • February 9, 2017

Following the shooting deaths of six men inside a Quebec City mosque, politicians quite rightly condemned the slaughter and affirmed Canada’s commitment to diversity, inclusiveness and tolerance.

But those words ring hollow in Ontario when applied to the dismissive way Catholic and other conscientiously objecting doctors are being treated on the issue of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

No hint of accommodation is found in demands to compel doctors to either act against their religious beliefs and values or face discipline that could include loss of their medical license. Yet, that is the situation in Ontario. Doctors who refuse on religious or moral grounds to euthanize patients are required to tacitly support the practice by referring patients to other doctors. Many doctors rightly regard referral as the moral equivalent to participation. But refusing to refer leaves them subject to sanctions from their governing body, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO).

Eight provinces have accommodated doctors who want no part of ending the lives of patients. Finding ways to respect the rights of both doctors and their patients is not difficult. Yet the message to thousands of Ontario doctors is our way or the highway. That must change.

If the executive of the CPSO won’t respect conscience rights, not to mention religious freedom rights enshrined in the Charter, then the province has a duty to intervene. No doctor should be required to participate directly or indirectly in a practice they find morally abhorrent.

Ontario’s parliament is currently considering new laws, in the form of Bill-84, that deal with several legal issues around assisted killing. The bill, however, has a gaping hole in that it fails to protect doctors who conscientiously object to assisted killing. This can’t be left to stand. The government needs to amend the bill to provide adequate accommodation for conscientious objectors. Doctors should never be professionally vilified due to their religious and moral convictions.

This is not just a Catholic issue. It’s not even an issue about euthanasia and assisted suicide. It’s about the right of medical professionals to conduct themselves according to their ethics, values and conscience, as they have done for centuries. It’s astounding the CPSO refuses to acknowledge this.

Instead, the fight for doctor rights is being led by a collection of several religious and professional groups called the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience. Its members worry their values will be exiled in Ontario’s healthcare system, a system founded largely by people of faith and conscience. Many fear being squeezed out of medicine altogether, particularly in family and palliative care.

This is wrong and should not be permitted to continue. Find out how you can help by visiting www.canadiansforconscience.ca.

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