Canadian religious leaders challenge conscience rights' decision

By 
  • September 18, 2008
{mosimage}OTTAWA - Two of Ottawa’s best known religious leaders have issued a joint declaration challenging a move to force Ontario’s physicians to set aside their own conscience and religious beliefs when they conflict with a patient’s request.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., and Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka said Sept. 11 that they are “deeply disturbed” by a new policy being considered by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. This policy could require doctors to perform abortions or other types of treatments even if they contradict their own beliefs.
“Many doctors have expressed a reasonable fear that if this policy is passed, they might be disciplined and even lose their licences for obeying their conscience,” the religious leaders said. “They would no longer be free to refuse to perform or refer for certain medical acts that are contrary to their firmly held beliefs.”

The issue arose over the summer when the College issued a draft policy and called for comments. The policy is a response to the Ontario Human Rights Code and its drafters say it is necessary to protect doctors from human rights complaints.

The draft policy says “there will be times when it may be necessary for physicians to set aside their personal beliefs in order to ensure that patients or potential patients are provided with the medical treatment and services they require.”

The proposal has met with stiff opposition from several Catholic organizations, including Canadian Physicians for Life and the Catholic Civil Rights League. It has received support from the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

The rabbi and the archbishop  observe that Canada has long cherished respect for the beliefs of others. “This includes respecting the right of others to disagree, and to refrain from doing things that would violate their religious and moral principles,” they write. “Our laws and Charter (of Rights and Freedoms) continue to protect this right for all citizens. To force anyone to violate their conscience would go against not only the text of these documents, but also against their underlying spirit. Such coercion would be fundamentally and shamefully unCanadian.”

The two religious leaders argue that forcing doctors to violate their own beliefs “would be a radically unjust and dangerous solution” to the perceived problem of doctors using conscientious objection to violate the rights of others.

“We urgently call upon the College and the Ontario government to protect the freedom of conscience of doctors and all health-care personnel. . . . The freedom to affirm and abide by one’s religious and ethical principles is not only a basic human right; it also protects our entire society.”

To read the entire statement, visit the web site www.catholiqueottawa.ca/topframe.html.

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