Editorial: A conscience solution

By 
  • May 13, 2021

Canada has been riding the fast track on assisted suicide for almost five years, yet it still hasn’t put in place effective protection for health care providers who do not want to play any part in ending a life this way. It’s called conscience rights and it is one of the freedoms specifically mentioned in Canada’s Charter.

There is now a private member’s bill before the House of Commons — Bill C-268 — brought forward by Conservative MP Kelly Block, which is essentially the same as the ill-fated bill now-retired MP David Anderson introduced in October 2018. That legislation died with the end of the Parliamentary session in September 2019.

The new bill proposes amendments to the Criminal Code that would make it a punishable offense to a) force a medical professional, by any means, to take part in or refer a patient for assisted suicide, and b) fire or refuse to hire a medical professional based solely on their refusal to participate in assisted suicide.

The fight to effectively protect conscience rights has been going on since before medical assistance in dying (MAiD) became law.

“It is clear that reasonable people, with or without religious faith, can have a well-founded moral conviction in their conscience that prevents them from becoming engaged in any way in the provision of assisted suicide and euthanasia,” Cardinal Thomas Collins told a Parliamentary committee in February 2016 as MAiD legislation was making its way through the House.

“It is essential that the government ensure that effective conscience protection is given to health-care providers, both institutions and individuals. They should not be forced to perform actions that go against their conscience, or to refer the action to others, since that is the moral equivalent of participating in the act itself.”

Since then, while the government continues to expand MAiD’s reach, it has done nothing to provide enforceable protections for those whose moral standards on the issue won’t be breached.

Bill C-268 offers a solution to this glaring omission in the safeguarding of rights. Petitions in support of the bill are being widely circulated by organizations such as Physicians For Life and the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience.

Opponents suggest conscience rights legislation would rob patients of their own rights to pursue a course of action that has been granted legal status. It does not. What it does do is protect health-care workers from parking their morals at the door when asked to do something they feel is wrong. Ultimately, the relationship between patient and health-care provider must be one where dignity, honesty, compassion and care are the guiding principles. Even if there is moral disagreement, no health-care worker can abdicate their responsibility toward the patient in providing their best advice.

As for Bill C-268 … private member’s bills do not have a great track record for making it into law. This one deserves a fighting chance.

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