Tory MP Kelly Block of Saskatchewan has asked Parliament to consider her proposed Bill 230 — The Protection of Freedom of Conscience Act. Photo from Facebook

Conscience rights battle carries on despite Bill C-230 defeat

By  Susan Korah, Catholic Register Special
  • October 12, 2022

Bill C-230 — which aimed to enhance the rights of medical personnel who refuse to participate in medically assisted death for reasons of conscience — has died in the House of Commons, but its supporters vow to keep up the fight for the rights of physicians and patients.

“The need for conscience rights has not ended,” said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, which has gained 16,500 online signatures on a petition in support of the bill.

“Conscience rights are fundamental freedoms that are protected by Section 2 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. With the implementation of killing by euthanasia in Canada, conscience rights have been undermined under the guise of a supposed ‘right’ to access MAiD (medical assistance in dying).”  

A private member’s bill sponsored by Conservative MP Kelly Block, Bill C-230 would have amended the Criminal Code of Canada to make it an offence to intimidate a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or other health-care professional into taking part, directly or indirectly, in the provision of MAiD. It was also intended to make it an offence to fire or to refuse to hire any health-care worker whose conscience does not allow them to take part in providing a medically assisted death. 

Bill C-230 died a premature death at its second reading Oct. 5 when nearly every Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois MP were among the 208 votes against it. Most of the Conservatives, including leader Pierre Poilievre, were among the 115 that voted in favour of Block’s bill.  

“Our focus will now have to be on provincial legislation,” Schadenberg said. “Manitoba is the only province that currently guarantees conscience rights protections for medical practitioners. We need to lobby the other provinces.” 

He explained that each province has a MAiD delivery program that doesn’t necessarily undermine conscience rights, but the reality is that medical practitioners continue to be pressured to participate in MAiD. 

“Many physicians — including some I know personally — are leaving Ontario to practice in Manitoba or even in the U.S. where it’s not difficult to transfer their licences. Some are retiring earlier than they planned because of lack of protection of conscience rights. Ontario, which already has a shortage of doctors, is facing a crisis.” 

Block expressed a similar concern in a statement she released after the bill’s defeat. 

“There is a growing concern among many medical professionals, regardless of whether they support the practice or not, that they may be forced to participate in MAiD due to the expanding eligibility. This is doubly concerning to those professionals who may feel obligated to provide it, even if they do not believe it is in a particular patient’s best interest based on their knowledge of the patient’s medical history,” she said. 

Schadenberg pointed out that the bill, if it had become law, would have protected the rights of patients as well. 

“If I am a patient, going through a particularly difficult time, I would need to be reassured that I can have a doctor who would not kill me, has the same values as I do and will do his best to help me through this crisis,” he said. “Both the Canadian Medical Association and the Ontario Medical Association support their members in exercising their freedom of conscience rights. Many religions do not agree with this practice, so professionals should be allowed to choose without fear of being hauled before a tribunal if they refuse to provide assisted dying services.”  

He added that a federal law would have protected these rights through the criminal code, but provincial legislation can do that as well, since health care is under provincial jurisdiction. 

Other organizations have also expressed deep concern that MAiD legislation would open the door to unnecessary assisted suicides and close it for other options for severely suffering patients.

The Coalition for Healthcare and Conscience promotes the rights of health-care professionals to refuse assisted dying services, as well as the rights of patients to seek other options. A note on its website says: “We need to ensure that there are health-care professionals who will work hard to give patients hope and alternatives to lethal injection.” 

Schadenberg remains confident conscience rights will one day be granted to dissenting health-care professionals. 

“Our work has not ended,” he concluded. “Conscience rights will someday be respected.” 

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