Private members’ bill on conscience rights in MPs’ hands

  • October 7, 2022

Bill C-230, the private members’ bill aimed at safeguarding medical professionals’ conscience rights, underwent its second hour of oral debate on Sept. 29, six months after parliamentarians first exchanged views over the proposed legislation.

Championed by Conservative MP Kelly Block, it’s now in MPs’ hands as to whether it will be furthered studied in Parliament before going on to third reading.

A vote to further study Block’s private member’s bill, which would amend the Criminal Code to protect medical professionals who don’t want to participate in medically assisted dying, took place Oct. 5, after The Register’s press deadline.

In her closing remarks, Block characterized her bill as “straightforward piece of legislation” that would “make it an offence to intimidate a medical professional to participate in medically assisted suicide, directly or indirectly, or to dismiss from employment or refuse to hire a medical professional simply because they refuse to take part in medically assisted dying.”

Block alluded to the expansion to medical assistance in dying (MAiD) in recent years.

“There is the growing concern or objection among many medical professionals, whether they support MAiD or disagree with it, that they may be forced to participate, even if they do not believe that it is in a particular patient’s best interest based on their expertise and knowledge of the patient’s history,” said Block. “More and more are becoming aware of the erosion of respect for their professional judgment and the precious relationship between the health-care provider and their patient.”

MP Melissa Lantsman, recently named as one of two Conservative Party deputy leaders, said her colleague’s proposed changes to the Criminal Code would ensure the doctor-patient relationship “is free and clear of coercion”

“Many of us today might be or might have been in a situation where a loved one has a difficult choice to make about their health,” said Lantsman. “Why would we not want our loved ones to receive the best possible care, the most options and the best options from good doctors, based on advice that has not been coloured by possible intimidation?”

On the other side of the debate, Bloc Québécois MP Nathalie Sinclair-Desgagné claimed “this bill has nothing to do with bullying or protecting health-care workers from bullying,” but instead what “this bill would actually do is interfere with people’s ability to obtain medical assistance in dying.”

Liberal MP Mark Gerresten said “that the aim of the bill, which is to support the conscience rights of health-care professionals, is indeed laudable.”

However, Gerresten stated that he does “not believe it would be constructive for Parliament to intervene by creating a new criminal offence such as the one proposed by the bill.” He said the “more productive approach is for the government to continue its efforts to work closely with the provinces and territories on the implementation of MAiD in a manner that supports persons who may be considering it and the health-care professionals who provide exceptional care to their patients.”

Outside of Parliament, Block’s bill has received acclaim in Catholic circles.

Toronto Archbishop Cardinal Thomas Collins praised the bill soon after its first reading back in February. He again championed this proposed law in an email to The Catholic Register.

“We are grateful for proposed legislation that would protect conscience rights,” said Collins. “Bill C-230 works to strengthen the case made by many health-care professionals over the last number of years that they are compelled to participate in ending the lives of their patients. Those advocating for euthanasia said years ago that no one would be forced to participate yet that has not been the reality for many doctors and nurses. They need legal protection consistent with their Charter rights.”

REAL Women of Canada, a pro-family and pro-life advocacy group, was one of the organizations Block met with during the conceptualization of Bill C-230.

Gwen Landolt, a founder of REAL Women of Canada, said the Liberal government’s MAiD law “runs contrary to the Hippocratic Oath” and the lack of conscience protections for doctors is at odds with the prevailing principle of medical associations around the world that the “conscience rights of a physician must be protected.”

She said some provinces provide such safeguards, but many, including Ontario, do not.

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