Health care professionals descended on Queen’s Park May 18, 2017 in support of a Progressive Conservative private member’s bill regarding conscience rights. From left to right: Dr. Jane Dobson, pharmacist James Brown, Dr. Doug Mark, Dr. Kulvinder Gill, nurse Helen McGee, medical student Lauren Mai and Dr. Stephen Vanderklippe. Photo by Michael Swan

Thousands step up in support of doctors' conscience fight

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  • March 22, 2018

An Ontario campaign to pressure politicians over the protection of health care conscience rights is “democracy in action,” said an organizer.

The Coalition of HealthCARE has so far collected 19,000 names and e-mail addresses in its “Call for Conscience Campaign.” That does not include results from the Archdiocese of Toronto.

The non-partisan campaign was launched to oppose and raise awareness about regulations that force doctors to refer for assisted suicide and euthanasia against their moral convictions.

By the end of March, people who have signed up during the campaign should receive instructions about how to e-mail all the candidates in their ridings in the run-up to Ontario’s June 7 provincial election. Candidates will be asked where they stand on forcing doctors to refer for assisted suicide and whether they would allow hospices, nursing homes and hospitals freedom to ban assisted dying on their premises.

Getting every candidate in every party to take a stand on the issue is an example of democracy in action, said Deacon Larry Worthen, executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada.

“It represents democracy at its best,” Worthen told The Catholic Register in an e-mail. “Candidates will respond in a variety of ways and voters will decide based on their responses.”

The blitz is an attempt by a coalition calling itself “Canadians for Conscience” to protect the individual and collective rights of health care providers to opt out of what is known as “medical assistance in dying.” 

Among its members is the Coalition for HealthCARE, an alliance of faith-based health providers and others which includes the Catholic Organization for Family and Life, the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Canadian Physicians for Life, the Christian Medical and Dental Society, the Archdiocese of Toronto, the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies and the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada.

The coalition hopes to appeal an Ontario Divisional Court decision which ruled doctors must refer for abortion, euthanasia and other legal procedures even if their conscience tells them they shouldn’t. But the coalition isn’t putting all its eggs in the legal basket, said Worthen. Members also hope political pressure will result in legislation that overrides the regulatory policy forcing doctors to refer.

The coalition also wants clearer, legislated protections for objecting health care institutions which don’t want assisted suicide performed inside their walls.

If the 225 Archdiocese of Toronto parishes average just 85 names each, they could double the number of e-mail addresses in the database once they report back on March 24. Public relations and communications director Neil MacCarthy is already aware of individual parishes that have collected as many 750 names of people looking for guidance in contacting their provincial candidate. 

The archdiocese ran its “sign-up Sunday” campaign the first weekend in March following the February sign-ups run in other Ontario dioceses.

“We recognize the need to both educate and engage the faithful on these issues,” said MacCarthy.

While the archdiocese would never tell people how to vote or endorse candidates, it does want to help Catholics engage on issues, MacCarthy said.

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