MPs will be facing new legislation on euthanasia this month in the House of Commons, which has re-located to the West Block of Parliament Hill while renovations go on in the Centre Block. Photo from Wikipedia

‘Somebody needs to step up’

By 
  • February 14, 2020

OTTAWA -- As the federal government moves towards expanding who can access a legal medically-induced suicide, a vocal critic of state-sponsored death is demanding that conscience rights for doctors who don’t want to take part in what the Canadian government calls medical assistance in dying (MAiD) be protected by a federal law.

Although Euthanasia Prevention Coalitiondirector Alex Schadenberg is vehemently opposed to allowing state-sanctioned medical suicide, he said if there is going to be such a system as MAiD in Canada, health care providers who are morally opposed to it must be allowed to follow their conscience and not have to participate in any way.

“Look, I don’t expect much to come from this (federal) government and I certainly don’t expect much to come out of (the province of) Quebec, but somebody in the House needs to step up and bring the protection of conscience rights for health care providers to the forefront,” Schadenberg said.

While the federal government is expected to propose changes to the MAiD system in the House of Commons this month, the decision to act now to make changes is tied to a Quebec court decision in September that struck down the “reasonably foreseeable” and imminent death requirement to qualify for an assisted death as being unconstitutional. The Quebec ruling is set to come into force March 11, which has compelled the federal government to make changes to the current legislation.

Both the federal and Quebec governments could have appealed that decision but decided not to and for the most part legal medical-assisted suicide in Canada has been driven by court rulings. The federal government made euthanasia legal following a Canadian Supreme Court decision in 2015 that led to the existing federal law in 2016. The issue of conscience rights for health care providers on issues such as MAiD and abortion has long been a sore point among some health care providers as there is a wide range of regulations across the country because the day-to-day providing of medical care in Canada falls under provincial jurisdiction.The province of Manitoba has passed rules respecting conscience rights for doctors, but in others such as Ontario, court decisions have effectively mandated that although health-care providers do not have to participate in carrying out an assisted death, they must make a referral to another health-care provider who will. For health-care providers who are morally opposed, such a mandated referral is a form of participating in the procedure.

Canadian Physicians for Life executive director Nicole Scheidl said that the issue of demanding heath care providers in Ontario refer patients to doctors who will provide the service is putting the burden on some doctors to participate in a procedure that they do not want to be involved in.

“Those who support a MAiD system should be responsible for setting up referral lines that people can call if they want that kind of a referral. It should not be up to a doctor who does not want to participate,” she said in a recent interview with Canadian Catholic News.

Before last October’s federal election, former Conservative MP David Anderson put forward a private member’s bill to amend the Criminal Code to make it an offence to intimidate a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or any other health care professional for the purpose of compelling them to take part in the provision of medical assistance in dying.

It would have also made it an offence to dismiss from employment or to refuse to employ such practitioners for the reason only that they refuse to take part in that activity. However, that proposal died on the order paper when the federal election was called. Anderson did not run for re-election in the 2019 federal campaign.

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No one should be forced to refer another person to be killed. Some Drs. prefer to save lives and provide care for the terminally ill, not kill them. They should have the right to act according to their conscience.

Lesley Ross
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