Alberta Provincial Legislature building. Wikipedia

Alberta conscience bill runs into opposition

By  Andrew Ehrkamp, Canadian Catholic News
  • November 23, 2019

EDMONTON -- The head of the Alberta Medical Association is speaking out against a private member’s bill introduced Nov. 7 that would protect the conscience rights of medical professionals.

Dr. Christine Molnar said she’s concerned Bill 207 may unintentionally limit a patient’s access to health services. However, other physicians say they welcome the strengthening of conscience rights.

Molnar wrote to Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dan Williams, the United Conservative Party MLA for Peace River who introduced the bill, saying she had concerns about Bill 207, the Conscience Rights (Health Care Providers) Protection Act.

The bill would amend the Alberta Human Rights Act to include “conscientious beliefs,” meaning health practitioners — and organizations — can conscientiously decline a procedure without worry that they would be penalized or, at worst, lose their job.

In her Nov. 13 letter, Molnar said “the bill has generated attention and anxiety among physicians and patients. This is regrettable since it is avoidable. From our perspective, the bill is unnecessary.

“The more serious issue is that the bill may have unintended consequences in limiting patient access to services,” Molnar added. 

Currently, medical professionals who do not wish to provide services such as abortion or assisted suicide refer patients to either a member or service that can under The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta standard of practice.

Williams made his case for the bill in an op-ed published in the Calgary Herald.

“Bill 207 does not restrict access to health-care services. Provision of services will continue on exactly as before. But my bill does provide clarity to health-care professionals in an evolving legal environment,” Williams wrote.

“Should that doctor be sanctioned or fired for exercising his or her conscience rights? I would say ‘no.’ Albertans should not have to surrender their constitutional rights in order to practise their chosen profession.”

Since the publication of Molnar’s letter, physicians have responded on the Alberta Medical Association website, and most comments support further protection under Bill 207.

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