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Tory MP Kelly Block of Saskatchewan has asked Parliament to consider her proposed Bill 230 — The Protection of Freedom of Conscience Act. Photo from Facebook

Charles Lewis: The courage to protect conscience

  • February 16, 2022

The one thing all should hold dear is their freedom of conscience. It may be our most effective tool in combatting oppression and ensuring religious freedom. It’s there for everyone to use but to employ it sometimes takes courage. But when put to work it can feel liberating.

In a recent column I wrote about Servant of God Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. She was incapable of violating her own conscience and paid the price. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Day’s conscience told her that meeting violence with violence went against the Sermon on the Mount. That cost her many friends and much support but she could do no more than what her conscience demanded.

I recently wrote elsewhere about Blessed Titus Brandsma, a Dutch Carmelite priest who refused to allow Nazi propaganda to appear in Catholic newspapers after Germany invaded the Netherlands. That refusal, the obeying of his conscience, led to his murder in Dachau.

Indeed, our Christian martyrs were the epitome of such sacrifice. They simply had to deny Christ or even just pay homage to some pagan god to avoid a horrible death. They followed their conscience to martyrdom and Heaven.But in Canada conscience is barely respected. In part because of our hyper-secular governments and our own fears of going against the grain.

This situation is most pronounced with those Canadian doctors who want no part of euthanasia (aka medical aid in dying or MAiD). While they are never forced to kill their patients directly, they are compelled, in every province but one, to make a referral to someone who will.

In effect, the doctor who makes such a referral would be saying, “I find it distasteful to kill you but, no worries, I’ll find someone who will.”

To date, as far as I can tell, only in Manitoba do doctors not have to refer a patient to another doctor who will kill them.

Now someone is trying to right this wrong. Tory MP Kelly Block of Saskatchewan has asked Parliament to consider her proposed Bill 230 — The Protection of Freedom of Conscience Act. There is a petition that you can sign to help Ms. Block in her efforts.

The petition notes: “Canadian medical professionals who conscientiously object to MAiD (euthanasia and assisted suicide) are being coerced and pressured to participate in these acts, either by direct participation or by being forced to do a referral for the purpose of the act. Medical professionals have been pressured to resign or have had to defend their right to be employed in their area of expertise because they refuse to participate in an act or do an effective referral for acts that they oppose.”

It also points out that conscience rights are a fundamental freedom under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that should apply to all Canadians.

“The reality is many medical professional organizations and individual professionals are beginning to understand that there is no conscience rights protection for medical professionals,” Ms. Block said in an email interview.

“With MAiD becoming normalized in our medical system, we need to create a work environment for medical professionals that protects them, supports them and encourages them to continue in the critical work they do.”

Here in Ontario the lack of protection is doubly galling because Premier Doug Ford promised conscience protection during the last provincial election. In fact, in opposition, the Tories lobbied to protect doctors from violating their most fundamental beliefs. But in power it seems to have been forgotten.

Perhaps it’s not that surprising. Politicians are leery of hooking their wagons to anything that smells of being pro-life. Look at how Ford dumped Tanya Granic Allen from the party for being too pro-life, even though she earned a spot to run as Tory in the riding of Mississauga Centre.

Ms. Block faces an uphill battle. The provincial colleges set the rules for physicians but her bill would make it a federal crime to penalize someone for exercising their conscience. She also faces a Parliament dominated by pro-death MPs.

While winning would be great, just the act of trying to right the wrong is important. It could once again raise a public debate that is greatly needed. As well as restore a right that should be universal and not exclude anyone… especially those whose job is to heal us.

(Lewis is a regular contributor to The Catholic Register)

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