Appeal being launched over conscience rights decision on assisted suicide

  • May 18, 2018

The Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada has received permission to appeal a Jan. 31 Ontario Divisional Court decision that would force objecting doctors to refer for assisted suicide.

Lawyers for the CMDS will file a motion with the Ontario Court of Appeal on May 22 and have 30 days to draft a brief stating reasons the court should overturn the lower court decision.

“We have cautious optimism,” CMDS executive director Deacon Larry Worthen told The Catholic Register. “We feel that the judges erred when they were balancing the positive effect for the patient against the deleterious effect on the doctor…. We just don’t think this is a just result.”

The Christian Medical and Dental Society argued that the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario were violating doctors’ religious freedom and conscience rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with a policy that would force them to either directly refer for assisted suicide or take up a medical specialty such as dermatology or plastic surgery allowing them to evade the issue. 

A three-judge panel agreed that the CPSO policy does violate doctors’ Charter rights, but that on balance the right of patients to access a legal medical service outweighed the harm done to objecting doctors.

The estimated cost of the appeal is $125,000, of which the CMDS has so far raised $90,000. The CMDS has been supported by the Call for Conscience campaign which has accumulated a database of 47,000 names and e-mail addresses from individuals asking the Ontario legislature to strengthen conscience protections for doctors, nurses and religiously-sponsored hospices, hospitals and long-term care facilities. The campaign, supported by Ontario’s Catholic bishops, is also asking for expanded palliative care options throughout the province.

About 3,400 people have sent letters to candidates running in the Ontario election through the Call for Conscience website at canadiansforconscience.ca. 

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