Conscience next victim of liberal agenda

By  Lea Singh, Catholic Register Special
  • August 29, 2008

{mosimage}A pro-life doctor friend recently told me that if things get really bad here in terms of religious freedom, he’ll move to the United States. Not so fast: his dream escape is dissipating before his eyes.

The California Supreme Court just unanimously ruled that a doctor must perform artificial insemination on a lesbian despite having religious objections, even though other doctors were available who could perform the service instead. This shocking ruling, which is now headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, demonstrates just how much the noose is tightening around doctors as they become the latest victims of the reorganization of society around the liberal agenda.

Here in Canada, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) has taken the lead by formulating a draft policy that threatens doctors with losing their licence if they act according to their religious or moral convictions (deadline for public comments: Sept. 12). 

The CPSO policy warns doctors that “freedom of religion is not unlimited” and “decisions to restrict medical services. . . that are based on moral or religious belief” might get them in trouble. Translation: think twice before refusing to prescribe the pill, refer for abortion or help a lesbian couple to conceive (or assist in a suicide or euthanasia, if that becomes legal).

The policy also cautions doctors against talking to patients about their lifestyles in a way that patients might find uncomfortably judgmental. A doctor will violate the policy if he/she is found to have expressed “personal judgments about the beliefs, lifestyle, identity or characteristics” of the patient, or to have promoted his/her own religious beliefs. The devil is in the future interpretation of these terms. What does it mean to express a “personal judgment”? What if the doctor says “I believe that abortion is wrong” — is that something that could lose you a licence?

Commenting on a similarly sinister British policy that was recently introduced, the British Christian Medical Fellowship expressed the worry that “With the current cultural erosion of the professional ethos we fear a time in the not-too-distant future when doctors will be expected to be technicians delivering for their employers a service to consumers, and that significant ethical concerns will no longer receive the attention they deserve.”

This concern is more than justified by the CPSO policy, which advises doctors that the only good excuse is “clinical incompetence.” So if you’re able to perform a service and the best you can come up with is a conscientious objection, you’d better consider performing the service.

The changes that are occurring in the medical profession are more than serious: they involve a complete rewriting of the role of the physician as it has always been understood in our society. Until now, the role of the doctor has been understood in a holistic way to include care for the patient’s moral and psychological being, as well put by Pope John Paul II in his address to Catholic doctors in 2000: “The sick must be helped to regain not only their physical health, but also psychological and moral well-being. This presupposes that the doctor, in addition to his professional skill, also has an attitude of loving concern inspired by the Gospel image of the Good Samaritan. With every suffering person, the Catholic doctor is called to bear witness to those higher values which have their firmest foundation in faith.”

The CPSO’s policy threatens to vacate the Good Samaritan role of the doctor, and to turn him into an unquestioning machine. The Hippocratic Oath’s “never do harm” is being replaced with the philosophy that as long as a procedure is legal, “the customer is always right.”

Such developments go beyond endangering the freedoms of doctors. The medical field is a microcosm of what is happening in our society to religious freedom in general. Increasingly, the Catholic voice is being perceived as “offensive” to some parts of society to the extent of violating their fundamental human rights. Calgary Bishop Fred Henry, the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Insight have all felt the heat of human rights commissions. Who will be next to face the process that, in and of itself, is the punishment?

Over the summer, the McGuinty government completely restructured and expanded the human rights prosecution system in Ontario. Changes include the hiring of a slew of lawyers for a new body, the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, whose sole mission is to help citizens across the province in bringing complaints to the new tribunal. Given these “improvements” to the system, the caseload is expected to increase from about 150 cases a year to several thousand. Another ominous change: a serious reduction in the right to appeal a tribunal decision to a “real” court.

Buckle up, because the battle is far from over.

(Lea Singh is from Edmonton and graduated from Harvard Law School in 2003. She lives in Ottawa and works for a Catholic nonprofit organization.)

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