Conscience rights’ battle rages in Nova Scotia

  • March 21, 2024

Christian physicians in Nova Scotia have taken up the fight against the province’s College of Physicians and Surgeons over a policy that would force physicians to refer patients for euthanasia, abortion and transgender services. 

Christian physicians are speaking out for physicians’ conscience rights, with a group of 24 corresponding with the medical regulator to say they cannot abide by these conditions. This follows indications by the college that complaints against physicians for not making referrals that go against their conscience will result in discipline and may even cost them their medical licenses. 

Taking a stand on behalf of the physicians is the Christian Medical and Dental Association of Canada (CMDA). Consisting of 1,600 Christian physicians from across Canada, the CMDA seeks to integrate Christian faith into the practice of medicine and is actively fighting to amend the pending proposal. 

“This is the toughest policy in the country and likely the toughest in the world,” said CMDA executive director Larry Worthen. “The registrar went to the only Catholic hospital in Nova Scotia and told them they must refer and if they didn't refer, they would be disciplined.”

Confusing matters has been two separate statements made by the college to media. One said there was no intention of such plans to be carried out as of March 13. However, it now appears that this is no longer the case.

“Their first statement to the press was that they were not contemplating any kind of policy in this area, but now they have gone back to say that they are consulting this policy that would require an effective referral for these sort of services,” Worthen said. 

Worthen notes these resources are already available without a doctor's referral and wonders if the policy is truly for the benefit of the patients, or rather a bizarre method of normalizing mandatory practices that leave Christian physicians uncomfortable and tyrannized as a result. 

“They (CPSN) say there's a concern that just providing information is not sufficient because there might be some patients who can't access it on their own. Our question is if somebody can't pick up the phone and make a call, how did they get to the doctor's office in the first place? Normally if someone's in that bad of shape, they're not likely to qualify for MAiD (medical assistance in dying) because they're not considered competent,” Worthen said. 

It’s an issue that has arisen in other provinces, some of which have reached a compromise. Ontario defines an effective referral as taking action to ensure the patient has access to such services, which is not the same as a formal referral. Physicians who are unable to refer for a procedure can advise a patient how to directly access that service. If the patient requests it, Ontario physicians are required to check back with the patient to ensure the connection was made, but as Worthen clarifies, given that it's material cooperation, “Catholics can actually do what the college in Ontario has required.” If passed, the policy in Nova Scotia would not allow for the same cooperation. 

The medical regulator for Nova Scotia has not responded to any of the CMDA’s pleas for change, despite two letters having been sent. 

“The problem is that we're being stonewalled. They're not even meeting with us. That tells me that they're not open-minded about MAiD,” Worthen said. “We've requested several meetings with the registrar and they do not even reply to our letters.” 

Worthen said Canadians should be concerned, particularly when it comes to a medically assisted death.  

“It was supposed to be something that was used only in rare circumstances when people had tremendous pain. That's not the reason that people are choosing MAiD, people are choosing MAiD … because of existential suffering,” he said. 

The CMDA has launched the “No Options No Choices” campaign, which asks Nova Scotia residents to write to the regulator and voice their opposition as well as donate to support investments in services that support all Canadians. 

The Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth is moving ahead with a campaign to get Catholics to write the college as well, while Worthen is calling for prayers. 

“The most effective thing is going to be prayer,” he said. “We need people praying because it is kind of going back to the days of early Christians where we're being persecuted because of our unwillingness to bow down to the God of autonomy.” 

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