Fight over forced referral policy on assisted suicide not over yet

  • February 15, 2018
The Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada is asking the Ontario Court of Appeal to take a second look at their case against the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

On Jan. 31 a three-judge panel of the Ontario Divisional Court sided unanimously with CPSO by ruling doctors could be forced to refer for assisted suicide. The judges ruled the forced referral policy violates the religious freedom rights of doctors who object to assisted dying, but the broader goal of assuring access to a legal medical procedure justifies the policy.

CMDS is now looking to appeal the decision.

“The main concern is that the judges did not rely on evidence that harm would come to patients if the effective referral requirement was not implemented. They speculated,” said CMDS executive director Deacon Larry Worthen. “In order to take away somebody’s Charter rights, it’s got to be more than speculation. It’s got to be hard evidence.”

The Divisional Court accepted the CPSO contention that vulnerable patients who want an assisted death would be left suffering by delays in accessing eligibility assessments for so-called medical assistance in dying (MAiD) if some doctors were free to not refer for the procedure.

“That evidence was not there,” said Worthen.

“We provided evidence of a number of experts who explained how vulnerable people access medical services without the requirement of an effective referral. In our experts’ opinion, there were ways for them to access services without the requirement.”

The association of doctors and dentists took in less than $800,000 last year and will struggle to finance a legal fight, Worthen said.

“We’re making an appeal to our members and other interested parties to consider supporting the costs of an appeal,” he said.

The CMDS was joined in the original case by five Ontario physicians, Canadian Physicians for Life and the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies.

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