Queen's Park, Toronto. Register file photo.

Charles Lewis: This is our chance to redeem ourselves

  • June 5, 2019

There is a similar scene in many movies. It is a cliché but one most of us enjoy: the skinny kid, representing good, enters the ring with the brutish bully, representing evil. Think The Karate Kid and the like.

The skinny kid gets pounded round after round. All those on his side pray he will give up before he is killed, but the kid keeps crawling back into the ring. 

Then the skinny kid’s luck turns: a jab to the jaw, a punch to the stomach, a punishing upper cut, the coup de grace. The bully is down and good triumphs — cue dramatic music, ecstatic sweetheart, proud mom, etc.

We Catholics should be that skinny kid. But we are not.

We have been knocked down in the court of opinion on all sorts of issues — on abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage and other assorted affronts to our morality and what we see as the good health of all of society.

On the issue of euthanasia, made legal in June 2016 by Parliament, some fought gallantly to stop it but there were far too few. Most sat on their hands. Some felt we were going to lose so why fight. And the outcome became self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Now we have a chance to fight back, to redeem ourselves as it were. We must not miss this opportunity. It will be to our everlasting shame if we do nothing.

After euthanasia became legal, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the regulatory body for doctors in the province, ruled its members must refer their patients to a willing doctor when a request for euthanasia is made. It is called an “effective referral.” 

No doctor is forced to do the actual killing, but for many doctors effective referral is abetting a crime, bringing on equal moral culpability.

Alberta doctors do not have to make an effective referral, but only to give their patients a 1-800 number to find on their own a doctor willing to kill them.

Manitoba has absolute conscience rights — not even a list for doctors to refer to. It is the ideal we should aim for.

In May, the Court of Appeal of Ontario agreed with the Ontario college that doctors must do an “effective referral.” 

The court called it a balanced approach, weighing the rights of patients and doctors. 

It does not. 

The court has effectively said to physicians, “We do not care about your religious beliefs. Do what you’re told.” 

“Ultimately it is patient care that suffers, as our doctors will retire early, relocate or change fields,” Dr. Ryan Wilson, president of Canadian Physicians for Life, told the Canadian Press.

Wilson’s is one of the three groups and five doctors suing the college to end the conscience ban.

“For many, their religious and conscience rights are being violated, and they won’t be able to practise medicine in Ontario.”

There is hope. But it will take work from all of us to make it happen.

In 2017 Tory MPP Jeff Yurek proposed such a bill to legislate conscience rights but the Liberal majority defeated it.

Now Yurek and the Tories have formed the government. You would think the bill could be introduced and passed. 

Unfortunately, my call to Yurek’s office was less than promising. 

Through his press aide I received this quote from Yurek, who is now the Minister of Transportation: “My personal views on this matter have not changed, however, my role in government is to create policy to help improve transportation in the province. Health policy questions should be directed to the Minister of Health’s office.”

As of this writing I had not heard back from the Ministry of Health.

Yurek is in cabinet and could propose it there. Premier Doug Ford did put conscience rights in his election platform.

One could work for better roads and also push for conscience rights. His answer is unsettling. Perhaps it is easier to be bold in Opposition.

However, this is where all of you come in. We should write to Ford and our MPPs demanding such a law. We should flood them with letters and phone calls. Every parish priest and council should organize letter-writing campaigns and petitions.

It is not that hard to do. The only things that could get in the way are laziness and indifference. Legal experts have told me conscience rights enshrined in law would likely trump a decision by the college.

“There is room here for a legislative solution that strikes a different balance than the College did with its policy,” said Daniel Santoro, a well-known Catholic lawyer who defended pro-life activist Linda Gibbons. 

We either support our medical professional now or soon risk losing them to jurisdictions that respect their conscience rights — some better place where having strong moral views is not considered secular heresy.

Get back in the ring. Fight for what you believe as a Catholic. Your faith deserves that much.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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