Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, along with an imam and a rabbi, have written a joint-intervention in favour of physicians’ conscience rights. Register file photo.

Ottawa archbishop among religious urging CPSO not to violate physicians’ conscience rights

  • August 5, 2014

OTTAWA - Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, along with an imam and a rabbi, have written a joint-intervention in favour of physicians’ conscience rights.

“No Canadian citizen, including any physician, should ever be disciplined or risk losing their professional standing for conducting their work in conformity with their most deeply held ethical or religious convictions,” wrote Prendergast, Rabbi Reuven Bulka and Imam Samy Metwally in a July 31 letter to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

The College had been seeking input until Aug. 5 on its policy review entitled “Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code.”

The faith leaders wrote they are “deeply disturbed by the many negative voices that have been urging the College to force doctors to ‘check their ethics at the door.’ ” With the legalization of euthanasia in Quebec and a growing debate on the matter, “we have arrived at the worst possible time in Canadian history to turn doctors into mere mechanics whose duty is to blindly do the bidding of their clients,” they said.

“It is crucial that we preserve the right of our doctors to refuse to participate in such services even if they are legal. Euthanasia and assisted suicide continue to be regarded as deeply unethical by many world religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.”

The letter went on to say that "the properly formed conscience of our physicians may sometimes be the last moral and ethical boundary that protects us and provides us with life-affirming options and alternatives that respect our human dignity.”

A change in policy would also undermine pluralism and the rights of citizens to participate in various professions and societal leadership roles regardless of their deeply held beliefs, they warned.

“Any policy that would require doctors to contravene their consciences and to breach their most deeply held values would be outrageously exclusionary and unacceptable, as it would chase out of medicine those principled physicians who refuse to violate the central teachings of many of our largest and most ancient religions,” they said.

Forcing doctors to make referrals in such services “would be as unacceptable as providing them,” they wrote.

“We refuse to believe that this is the kind of Canada that any of us would want to live in,” they wrote. The freedom of conscience is a basic human right recognized by many international agreements and protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is essential to a truly democratic society and foundational for the protection of all other human rights, including the freedom of religion.”

The leaders encouraged the College to maintain its current policy that protects physicians’ conscience rights.

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