New bill puts conscience rights back in focus

By  Susan Korah, Catholic Register Specia
  • February 10, 2022

Cardinal Thomas Collins has added his applause for a federal bill protecting conscience rights of health-care professionals who refuse participation in medically assisted suicide.

“I have long been an advocate for legislation protecting conscience rights especially as it relates to assisted suicide,” Collins told The Catholic Register in an e-mail. “I appreciate that efforts continue to be made at the federal level to enshrine into legislation protection for medical professionals who do not wish to participate in ending the lives of their patients.”

Collins’ early commendation came after Saskatchewan MP Kelly Block introduced private member’s Bill C-230 on Feb. 4. If passed by Parliament, the legislation would make it an offence to intimidate or coerce a medical professional to take part in delivering medical assistance in dying, so-called MAiD. It would also prohibit firing or refusing to hire a health-care worker for the sole reason of refusal to participate in MAiD.

“Medical professionals are facing increasing pressure to participate in assisted suicide, and this is causing many to question their ability to work in Canada,” Block said as she introduced the bill in the House of Commons. “The bill will protect medical professionals from intimidation or coercion in the same way workers are protected from intimidation or coercion if they want to form or (join) a union.”

As with all private member’s bills, Block’s Protection of Freedom of Conscience Act has a long way to go through the House of Commons and Senate before it becomes law.

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said the bill renews one that died in the House of Commons because of the 2021 federal election.

“I’m very happy this bill has been tabled,” said Schadenberg. “It is an opportunity to urge parliamentarians to support conscience rights for medical professionals. It should be taken very seriously because there are medical professionals of all religions or no religion who do not wish to participate in MAiD.”

A 2015 study indicated that 63 per cent of Canadian doctors would refuse to provide MAiD.

Block underlined the importance to all Canadians of creating an environment that lets medical professionals work without fear of intimidation or coercion into acting against the dictates of their conscience.

“Over the past two years, we have seen just how important our health-care system is and how critical the medical professionals who work in that system are to Canadians,” the Conservative MP for Carlton Trail-Eagle Creek in Saskatchewan said. “We need to create a work environment for medical professionals that protects them, supports them and encourages them to continue in the critical work they do.”

The Canadian Medical Association, which represents 75,000 medical doctors and learners, has endorsed the principle of freedom of conscience.

“Medical assistance in dying has been one of the most complex and ethically challenging issues facing Canadian physicians. At the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), our goal is to facilitate bold and courageous dialogue about this end-of-life intervention and its implications,” says a note on the CMA’s website.

“As detailed in our policy on medical assistance in dying, we support our members in exercising their freedom of conscience — both for those who choose to provide or participate in medical assistance in dying and those who do not.”

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