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Ontario bishops renew push for conscience rights to protect health-care workers

  • April 29, 2021

OTTAWA -- Ontario’s Catholic bishops are calling on the faithful to demand legislation to protect health-care workers from having to participate in procedures that go against their faith and conscience.

The renewed call for conscience rights legislation in Ontario comes after the federal government passed changes to Canada’s legal assisted suicide rules that make it easier for Canadians to kill themselves with the help of a doctor.

In Ontario, the College of Physicians and Surgeons makes it mandatory that doctors at least provide patients with a “referral” to other health-care providers who will perform so-called medical assistance in dying (MAiD).

In a letter being distributed to dioceses across the province, the bishops say “health-care professionals need our prayers and support.”

“The federal legislation will have implications for health care in the provinces. Now, more than ever, we need doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals who will ensure vulnerable patients have caring alternatives to lethal injections,” said a message shared by Ottawa-Cornwall Archbishop Marcel Damphousse.

“(M)any health-care professionals with moral convictions are being pushed out of their profession by provincial health regulators,” Damphousse’s statement said. “Here in Ontario, you can support vulnerable patients by contacting the Ontario government and asking that legislation be introduced to protect the conscience rights of health-care workers.”

Similar efforts and campaigns to lobby for conscience protection are also underway in other provinces, according to the Coalition for Health Care and Conscience.

A statement on the coalition’s website said that in the wake of the wide-ranging changes to MAiD that allow those whose death is not already “reasonably” foreseeable and the mentally ill to access the MAiD system in the future, “each provincial government needs to be encouraged to create legislation that ensures that doctors, nurses and pharmacists have their conscience rights protected.”

While a previous effort to bring in conscience legislation in Alberta failed in 2019, legislation has been passed in Manitoba.

“In Manitoba, the government has passed Bill 34, legislation that protects doctors, nurses and pharmacists from having to perform or aid in the provision of assisted suicide against their conscience. This bill passed with support from all parties after Manitoba legislators received over 14,000 letters through our Call for Conscience campaign,” said the coalition, which is supported by numerous faith-based organizations such as the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada and the Archdiocese of Toronto.

“No one should ever be forced to participate by immoral means, for example by making an effective referral, in ending the lives of patients. This truly is an issue of life or death,” said Damphousse.

Adopting legislation on conscience rights is also the focus of Bill C-268 put forward in February by Conservative MP Kelly Block.

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