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Doctors rise up to fight Nova Scotia MAiD law

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  • July 4, 2024

The Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA) of Canada, along with more than 40 Nova Scotia medical practitioners and 10 Dalhousie medical school graduates, have urged the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia (CPSNS) to renege on a new policy they believe violates their conscience rights.

Objectors to the new rules on conscience rights surrounding medical assistance in dying (MAiD) are subject to investigation and possibly discipline. Dissenting doctors risk losing their licence to practice in Nova Scotia, this at a time when the Maritime province is facing a severe physician shortage.

As of May 24, the CPSNS’s Professional Standards Regarding Conscientious Objection orders doctors to communicate euthanasia as a treatment option unprompted. Physicians who refuse to directly perform MAiD procedures would then be mandated to provide an effective referral so that another clinician can offer the patient assisted suicide. During medical emergencies, physicians would even be compelled to carry out the medical killing directly regardless of their conscience and religious protestations.

Over 160,000 Nova Scotians are listed on the Need a Family Practice Registry, which is more than 16 per cent of the provincial population. In a press release, the CMDA stated that CPSNS policy “threatens to make the Nova Scotia physician shortage even worse.” The association declared that if the health system loses the 41 specialists who said they cannot abide by these new standards of practice, it will “directly result in the loss of family physician services to 30,000 Nova Scotians.”

Additionally, over 100 doctors from other Canadian provinces have declared in writing that they would not even consider working in Nova Scotia because of the CPSNS edicts.

At a July 4 press conference, Dr. Paul Young, who practices family medicine in Enfield, N.S., critiqued the CPSNS position that this policy reduces barriers to receiving care.

“Instead, it seems to create a barrier for patients who are seeking these services by requiring a referral where one wasn’t required previously,” said Young. “(And) a barrier to physicians who may be seeking to practice in this province but do not wish to put themselves in a position where they would be subject to disciplinary action for following their own ethical conscience and physician’s oath.”

The CMDA deems mandating effective referrals for MAiD an unnecessary rule addition as Nova Scotia Health already helps patients directly access these services. The organization also touts that if the provincial health system instituted patient navigator services akin to Alberta’s, individuals could access the care they seek without forcing individual physicians into ethical dilemmas.  

Larry Worthen, the CMDA’s executive director, has tried to discuss the policy with the CPSNS, but several email communications have been ignored. Well-versed in all provincial medical standards of practices across the country, Worthen deemed the Nova Scotia policy the “most restrictive.” He suggested the CPSNS is being inflexible to other points of view and compromise for ideological reasons.

“It has become very legal and very politicized,” said Worthen. “I think that if the Nova Scotia doctors could deal with this on their own without lawyers, without activists, they would quickly, almost immediately, solve it. The sad part is that it has become a political football. I think the lawyers and politicians on both sides should be ashamed of themselves because it should be about patient care in Nova Scotia. That should be the primary concern. That is all the doctors want.”

The CMDA encourages concerned citizens to participate in the No Options, No Choice letter-writing campaign. Participants are asked to petition their local MLA to intervene and ultimately amend the policy to benefit Nova Scotian patients and doctors.  

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