Pro-life doctors fight for conscience rights

  • June 5, 2007
{mosimage}OTTAWA - Should doctors who object to abortion on religious or conscience grounds be forced to refer patients seeking to terminate their pregnancies? Should abortion be a required procedure for all medical students?
These questions are at the heart of a looming battle over a Canadian Medical Association (CMA) policy that allows doctors to refuse to make referrals. The National Abortion Federation (NAF) is lobbying the medical association to change the policy.

“I find as a Catholic physician, it is extremely important that both Catholics and people of good will make an effort to politely request to the powers that be — colleges of physicians, the CMA and the government — to uphold these protections for conscience,” said Dr. Rene Leiva, an Ottawa family doctor. “If you take away the conscience and the right to object of a Catholic physician, you are taking away their integrity. Without that what is left? Anything can come after that.”

{sidebar id=2}NAF, an organization that represents abortion providers in Canada and the United States, described the so-called conscientious objector clause a “violation of the CMA’s own Code of Ethics” in a May 9 letter to the CMA.

“Your policy treats women unfairly and impedes women’s access to critical health care guaranteed through the Canada Medical Act,” said NAF president and CEO Vicki Saporta in the letter. “A physician’s religious and moral beliefs should not jeopardize a patient’s access to medical care. If doctors do not wish to refer and inform patients about their comprehensive medical options, including abortion care, then they should not participate in the public system.”

Leiva sees referring a patient for an abortion as nearly equivalent to the act itself. As a native of El Salvador, he used the analogy of a death squad asking him to show them where someone was hiding.

“Well, I’m against you killing the poor, but by the way that person is over there, I’m referring that person to someone who will kill that person,” he said.

In a May 16 news conference on Parliament Hill, NAF board chair Dr. Pat Smith raised concerns that abortion is not part of “core training” at medical schools.

“Medical schools must provide training opportunities for medical students to ensure that future generations of Canadian women have access to quality abortion care,” she said.

Leiva sees this as immoral. If medical schools make abortion part of the core curriculum, not only Catholics and other Christians, but all people who uphold the old Hippocratic Oath would not be able to become doctors.

Canadian Physicians for Life is mobilizing pro-life doctors to write to the CMA in favour of the policy.

“If the CMA’s policy were to be changed so that doctors were compelled to make abortion referrals against their conscientious/religious beliefs, Canada may one day find itself without any practising pro-life doctors,” said a May 14 e-mail by administrator Barbara McAdorey on behalf of Canadian Physicians for Life’s board.

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