Canadian Medical Association and euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada

Critical review of CMA approach to changes in policy and law

Sean Murphy*

Abstract

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In December, 2013, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Board of Directors decided to shape the debate and law concerning euthanasia and assisted suicide and revisit CMA policy opposing physician participation in the procedures. By the summer of 2014 it was clear that the overwhelming majority of physicians supported the existing policy. However, it appears that the Board decided the policy should be changed before the Supreme Court of Canada decided the case of Carter v. Canada.

The Board sponsored an ostensibly neutral resolution affirming support for the right of physicians to follow their conscience in deciding whether or not to provide euthanasia/assisted suicide if the law changed. The resolution was overwhelmingly approved. Unnoticed at the time was that the resolution was not conditional upon eligibility criteria, such as decision-making capacity or terminal illness.

The CMA intervention at the Supreme Court of Canada in the Carter case emphasized that existing CMA policy against euthanasia and assisted suicide would be changed to reflect the resolution. It conveyed the message that the Association would support physicians who decided to participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide no matter how broadly the Court or legislatures might cast the rules governing the procedures.

The Board reversed CMA policy about two months before the Court ruled. It formally approved physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, subject only to legal constraints. The policy did not exclude minors, the incompetent or the mentally ill, nor did it limit euthanasia and assisted suicide to the terminally ill or those with uncontrollable pain. It classified both as “end of life care,” promising support for patient access to the procedures should they be legalized. Support for physicians refusing to participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide was qualified by the statement that there should be no “undue delay” in providing them. Implicit in all of this was a new ethical paradigm: that in some circumstances, physicians have a professional obligation to kill patients or to help them kill themselves.

The new policy effectively wrote a blank cheque for the Supreme Court of Canada to legalize euthanasia and physician assisted suicide on any terms acceptable to the judges. After the Court struck down the law CMA officials expressed concern about the criteria set by the Court. It was implied that the Supreme Court was to blame for anxiety and profound discomfort among Canadian physicians because it had imposed upon them an obligation to kill, contrary to centuries of medical ethics and practice.

However, the concerns voiced by CMA officials after the Carter ruling existed when the CMA intervened in the case, and the CMA did not raise them then. In fact, the Supreme Court gave legal effect to a policy the CMA had already adopted, and the criteria the Court set for the procedures were actually more restrictive than anything the CMA had proposed. The Court cannot be blamed because CMA leaders were ill-prepared to deal with the consequences of a ruling entirely consistent with their own policy.

The consequences fell most heavily upon physicians who refused, for reasons of conscience, to provide euthanasia and assisted suicide or to collaborate in providing the services by referral or other means. Since Carter, the debate in Canada has been largely about whether or under what circumstances physicians and institutions should be allowed to refuse to provide or facilitate the services. While it is generally agreed that physicians should not be compelled to personally provide them, there are strident demands that physicians unwilling to kill their patients or help them commit suicide should be forced to refer patients to someone who will.

This review demonstrates that the CMA Board of Directors focus in 2014 was on the role physicians would play in providing euthanasia and assisted suicide should the law change. The Board knew that the overwhelming majority of Canadian physicians would refuse to participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide. The fundamental conflict presented by imposing an obligation to kill upon unwilling physicians was foreseeable and had been foreseen by CMA officials. Attacks upon physician freedom of conscience, particularly with respect to referral, were predictable.

However, the Board failed to consider physician freedom of conscience in relation to assisted suicide and euthanasia except the extent that it could be used to further its policy goals. As a result, after the Carter ruling, CMA officials were quite unprepared to mount a cogent, articulate and persuasive defence of physician freedom of conscience, especially in relation to referral. They discovered that state authorities and the public were often unreceptive and even hostile to physicians unwilling to arrange for patients to be killed by someone else. Negotiating at a significant disadvantage of their own making, they were desperate to find a policy “acceptable to the regulators” and to objecting physicians whose fundamental freedoms they had rashly jeopardized.

The CMA has since produced a strong defence of physician freedom of conscience in relation to referral for euthanasia and assisted suicide, and sound protection of conscience provisions have been incorporated into a revised CMA policy on the procedures. However, by the time these statements appeared, objecting physicians were on the defensive in a treacherous and even hostile environment, compelled to launch an expensive constitutional challenge to defend fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion. The outcome of that case will determine if they will be able to continue to practise medicine if they refuse to collaborate in killing their patients.

The World Medical Association (WMA) national medical associations are free to decide to change their policies on physician participation in euthanasia or assisted suicide. This review demonstrates that they should not follow the example of the Canadian Medical Association if they wish to safeguard the fundamental freedoms of physicians and health care workers. [Full Text]

Supreme Court of Canada respect for physician freedom of conscience and religion is not “a cop-out”

Responding to “Patient rights – even in death – must trump a doctor’s discomfort.” Globe and Mail, 1 February, 2016

Sean Murphy*

According to André Picard, the Supreme Court of Canada decided last year that patients could ask to be killed by physicians or ask physicians to help them commit suicide, but physicians could not be compelled “to actually kill a patient.” He describes this as “a perfectly reasonable balancing and reconciling of rights.”1

Indeed, it is perfectly reasonable to believe that physicians should not be forced to actually kill a patient. However, Mr. Picard is mistaken when he claims that the Supreme Court of Canada reconciled or balanced the rights of patients and physicians in the Carter ruling. The Court did not even attempt to do so, stating, instead, that patient and physician rights “will need to be reconciled.”2

With respect to physicians, the Court stated that “nothing” in the ruling would compel physicians to “provide” or “participate in” euthanasia or assisted suicide. This is precisely the language and thinking adopted by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) in its policy framework.3 Mr. Picard is clearly angry about this, calling it “a cop-out that creates real barriers for desperately ill patients,” one that “regulators and legislators cannot and should not accept.”

However, in the face of the Carter ruling, Mr. Picard cannot expect the CMA, regulators and legislators to impose his deeply held personal belief that refusing to compel physicians to provide or participate in homicide or assisted suicide is an unacceptable “cop-out.”

Mr. Picard clearly prefers the policy of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) on “effective referral,” which demands that physicians who refuse “to actually kill a patient” must help find someone willing to do the actual killing.

Contrary to his claim that effective referral is a “well-established policy,” it was first imposed by the CPSO in Ontario last year in the face of overwhelming opposition, on the basis of deficient, erroneous and seriously misleading briefing materials, and without evidence that even a single person in Ontario had ever been unable to access medical services because of conscientious objection by a physician.4 It is the subject of an ongoing constitutional court challenge,5 and is not supported by the BC Civil Liberties Association – one of the driving forces behind Carter’s challenge to the law.6 None of this seems to concern Mr. Picard.

“Patient need takes precedence over physician discomfort,” he says, “and patient rights trump physician rights.”

However, the CMA’s Dr. Jeff Blackmer told the joint parliamentary committee on assisted dying that this is a false dichotomy. There are enough physicians willing to provide euthanasia or assisted suicide to meet the expected demand, he said, and other jurisdictions do not require “effective referral” by objecting physicians but there is no difficulty with access.7

“This should not be a debate between patient access OR the right to conscientious objection by health care professionals,” writes CMA President, Dr. Cindy Forbes. “We can absolutely accomplish both.”8

Mr. Picard’s demand that physicians must get over discomfort about killing people at least to the extent that they will contract out the actual killing no doubt reflects his deeply held personal beliefs. However, if the real goal is to ensure access – not ideologically driven ethical cleansing – there is no reason to demand that physicians do what they believe to be wrong. If the real goal is to ensure access to services – not to punish objecting physicians – that goal is best served by connecting patients with physicians willing to help them, and that can be done without demanding “effective referral.”

Notes

1. Picard A. “Patient rights – even in death – must trump a doctor’s discomfort.” Globe and Mail, 1 February, 2016 (Accessed 2016-02-04).

2. Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5, para. 132. (Accessed 2016-02-04).

3. Canadian Medical Association,  Principles-based Recommendations for a Canadian Approach to Assisted Dying (2016) (Accessed 2016-01-09).

4. Protection of Conscience Project, Submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (5 June, 2015) Re: Conscientious Refusal (as revised). Appendix “A”: Ontario College briefing materials .

5. Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Between the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada et al and College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, Notice of Application, 20 March, 2015. Court File 15-63717.

6. Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, Report of Proceedings (Hansard), Select Standing Committee on Health. Wednesday, July 15, 2015, Issue No. 17, p. 270 (Accessed 2016-02-02).

7. Special Joint Committee on Physician Assisted Dying, Evidence: Wednesday, January 27, 2016. (Accessed 2016-02-04)

8. Forbes C. “Time for myth-busting on assisted dying.” Canadian Medical Association (4 February, 2016)

A “uniquely Canadian approach” to freedom of conscience

Provincial-Territorial Experts recommend coercion to ensure delivery of euthanasia and assisted suicide

Recommendations designed to broaden and maximize impact of Supreme Court ruling

Sean Murphy*

Abstract

The Experts’ recommendations are intended to extend and maximize the impact of the Carter ruling. They will effectively require all institutions, facilities, associations, organizations and individuals providing either health care or residential living for elderly, handicapped or disabled persons to become enablers of euthanasia and assisted suicide. This will entail suppression or significant restriction of fundamental freedoms.

The broader the criteria for the provision of morally contested procedures, and the more people and groups captured in the Experts’ enablers’ net, the greater the likelihood of conflicts of conscience.  Relevant here are recommendations to make euthanasia/assisted suicide available to mentally ill and incompetent persons, and to children and adolescents, even without the knowledge of their parents.

The Experts’ distinction between “faith-based” and “non-faith-based” facilities is meaningless. They impose identical obligations on both. All will be forced to allow homicide and suicide on their premises, or compelled to arrange for euthanasia or assisted suicide elsewhere.
Likewise, they recommend that objecting physicians be forced to actively enable homicide or suicide by providing referrals, arranging direct transfers or enlisting or arranging the enlistment of patients in a euthanasia/assisted suicide delivery system.

The Supreme Court did not rule that people ought to be compelled to become parties to homicide and suicide, but that is what the Experts recommend. This is not a reasonable limitation of fundamental freedoms, but a reprehensible attack on them and a serious violation of human dignity.

Other countries make euthanasia and assisted suicide available without attacking fundamental freedoms. In this respect, the Experts’ claim to have produced “a uniquely Canadian approach to this important issue” is regrettably accurate. They fail to provide any evidence that the suppression of freedom of fundamental freedoms they propose can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.


Table of Contents

I.    Background

I.1    Formation and work of the Advisory Group

II.    Overview of the Final Report

II.1    Moral/ethical unanimity
II.2    “Statement of Principles and Values”
II.3    Recommendations broadening the Carter criteria
II.4    Recommendations impacting freedom of conscience and religion

III.    The Experts’ “uniquely Canadian approach”

III.1     Expanded criteria and increasing likelihood of conflict

III.1.1    “Irremediable medical condition”.
III.1.3     Euthanasia approved for future suffering.
III.1.7     No waiting/reflection period.
III.1.10     Adolescents and children.
III.1.13     Euthanasia/assisted suicide by non-physicians.
III.1.15     Doctor shopping.
III.1.18     Physicians need not be present at suicides.
III.1.20     Euthanasia/assisted suicide wherever people live.
III.1.22     Families, caregivers may not be advised.

III.2    Institutions, associations, organizations

III.2.1     The meaning of institution.
III.2.3    All “institutions” must allow/arrange euthanasia/assisted suicide
III.2.6     All “institutions” must disclose policies.
III.2.8     “Institutions” may not manifest or enforce commitments

III.3    Objecting physicians: information, disclosure, non-discrimination

III.3.3    Objecting physicians must provide information.
III.3.8    Objecting physicians must disclose views and their implications.
III.3.11    Objecting physicians must not illicitly discriminate.

III.4    Objecting physicians must become critical enablers

III.4.4    Referral or direct transfer of care.
III.4.5    Referral to “system/third party.”
III.4.8    The Experts’ proposal and the CMA’s proposal.

IV.    Project response

IV.1    Expert recommendations broadening Carter criteria
IV.2    Expert recommendations and fundamental freedoms in general
IV.3    Expert recommendations and freedom of conscience

V.    Conclusion


Appendix “A”  Supreme Court of Canada, Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5

A1.    Carter criteria for euthanasia and physician assisted suicide
A2.    Carter and the criminal law
A3.    Carter and freedom of conscience and religion

Appendix “B”  Expert recommendations re: broadening Carter criteria

B1.     Expanding the Carter criteria

B1.1    “Grievous and irremediable medical condition” includes mental illness
B1.2    Suffering not a prerequisite
B1.3    Competence not a prerequisite: euthanasia for dementia
B1.4    Euthanasia and assisted suicide for children and adolescents
B1.5    Assessment, euthanasia and assisted suicide by non-physicians

B2.    Increasing the impact of Carter

B2.3    Doctor shopping
B2.4    No “waiting/reflection” period
B2.5    Physicians need not be present at suicides
B2.6    Euthanasia & assisted suicide in hospitals, hospices, etc.
B2.7    Families and caregivers may not be advised

Appendix “C”    Expert recommendations re: freedom of conscience and religion

C1.    Institutions

C1.1    Meaning of “institution”
C1.2    “Institutions” must allow or arrange for euthanasia or assisted suicide
C1.3    All “institutions” must disclose position on euthanasia and assisted suicide
C1.4    “Institutions” must not require patients/residents to give up “the right to access,” interfere with employees providing eutanasia or assisted suicide elsewhere

C2.    Objecting physicians/health care providers

C2.1    Must provide information on “all options”
C2.2    Must disclose views on euthanasia and assisted suicide
C2.3    Must not discriminate
C2.4    Must act as critical enablers

C2.4.1  Three alternatives
C2.4.2  Referral
C2.4.3  Direct transfer of care
C2.4.4  Transfer to “a publicly-funded system” or “third party”
C2.4.5  The Experts’ “system/third party” and the CMA’s “central service”

Appendix “D”    Canadian Medical Association on euthanasia and assisted suicide

D1.    CMA policy: Euthanasia and Assisted Death (2014)
D2.    CMA Annual General Council, 2015

D2.1    Surveys on support for euthanasia/assisted suicide
D2.2    Physician freedom of conscience

D3.    CMA rejects “effective referral”

Appendix “E”    International comparisons

E1.    Netherlands
E2.    Luxembourg
E3.    Belgium
E4.    Oregon
E5.    Washington
E6.    Vermont
E7.    California

Appendix “F”    An Act to Safeguard Against Homicide and Suicide

 

Amir Attaran and the elves

 

A law professor makes much ado

Sean Murphy*

In a column in the on-line magazine iPolitics,1 University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran asserts that the “corrosive hostility” of the Canadian Medical Association to “physician-assisted dying” is evident in its “cowardly and stupid” position on the procedure. He claims that the Association “all but threatened” the Supreme Court of Canada that “doctors would rise up” to block it.

In his telling, ever since the Court ignored the threat and struck down the law, the CMA has been acting like a “sore loser,” trying to persuade physicians not to participate. As evidence, he quotes a CMA policy recommendation: “Physicians are not obligated to fulfil requests for assisted dying.” And he complains that the CMA won’t force physicians unwilling to kill patients or help them commit suicide to find someone who will.

Now, the CMA also states that all eligible people should have access to the services without undue delay, and physicians will work with others to ensure access to them,2 but Professor Attaran ignores this. His analysis of CMA policy is simple and scathing. Some physicians, he says, are “bigots,” and the CMA is siding with “those bigots” rather than with patients.

Professor Attaran identifies the bigots: physicians who believe that killing patients or helping them commit suicide is gravely wrong, or at least a bad idea, even in the circumstances defined by the Supreme Court. Those whom Professor Attaran denounces as bigots include physicians who believe they are ethically obliged to compassionately accompany and support dying patients, but not to kill them.

On the contrary, says Professor Attaran, they are “duty-bound” to kill patients or help them commit suicide precisely because the Supreme Court “pointedly” approved “physician-assisted suicide.”*  If physicians won’t help patients commit suicide, he rages, “then who does the CMA think should be obliged to help – elves, maybe?”

To which any number of physicians have already replied, “Not elves, but lawyers.”

[Full text]

[iPolitics version- Doctors aren’t obliged — legally or otherwise — to help people die]

 

A bureaucracy of medical deception

 Quebec physicians told to falsify euthanasia death certificates

Regulators support coverup of euthanasia from families

Sean Murphy*

In the first week of September, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) was reported to be “seeking ‘clarity'” about whether or not physicians who perform euthanasia should misrepresent the medical cause of death, classifying death by lethal injection or infusion as death by natural causes. The question arose because the Quebec College of Physicians was said to be “considering recommending” that Quebec physicians who provide euthanasia should declare the immediate cause of death to be an underlying medical condition, not the administration of the drugs that actually kill the patient.1 In fact, the Collège des médecins du Québec and pharmacy and nursing regulators in the province had already made the decision. In August, the three regulators issued a Practice Guide directing Quebec physicians to falsify death certificates in euthanasia cases.

The physician must write as the immediate cause of death the disease or morbid condition which justified [the medical aid in dying] and caused the death. It is not a question of the manner of death (cardiac arrest), but of the disease, accident or complication that led to the death. The term medical aid in dying should not appear on this document.2

Lawyer Jean Pierre Ménard correctly observed that Quebec’s euthanasia law does not require physicians to report euthanasia on death certificates.1  M. Ménard is an expert on euthanasia law consulted by the Quebec government and the CMA,3  but he seems unaware of guidelines relevant to the classification of deaths and medico-legal death investigations. . . [Full text]

Illinois controversy about legislative overreach

 Catholic bishops withdraw opposition, others remain opposed

Confrontation centres on complicity

Sean Murphy*

 Introduction

Among American states, Illinois has the most comprehensive protection of conscience legislation, the Health Care Right of Conscience Act (HCRCA). In 2009 an attempt was made to nullify the Act with respect to abortion, contraception and related procedures by introducing HB 2354 (Reproductive Health and Access Act), but the bill died in committee two years later.1 Now it appears that the HRCA may be changed by Senate Bill 1564. Critics say the bill tramples upon physician freedom of conscience,2 while the bill’s supporters, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), claim that the bill is “about making sure no one is withholding information from the patient.”3

SB 1564 was actually drafted by the ACLU,3 but it was introduced by Illinois Senator Daniel Biss. He said that the amendments were partly in response to the case of a woman who was miscarrying over several weeks, but who was refused “diagnosis or options” in the hospital where she had sought treatment.4  Senator Bliss was apparently referring to the story of Mindy Swank, who testified before a Senate legislative panel about her experience.  The Illinois Times reported that she suffered “a dangerous, weeks-long miscarriage” because of the refusal of Catholic hospitals to provide abortions.5

Unfortunately, the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee does not record or transcribe its hearings, and conflicting news reports make it difficult to determine exactly what happened at some critical points in her story.  Moreover, it appears that the Committee did not hear from the hospitals and physicians who were involved with Ms. Swank, so we are left with a one-sided account of what took place.6

Nonetheless, as a first step in considering the particulars of the bill and the controversy it has engendered, it is appropriate to review the evidence offered to support it.  We will begin with Mindy Swank’s testimony, even if some details are lacking, and then examine the experience of Angela Valavanis, a second case put forward by the ACLU to justify SB 1564.7  [Full Text]

Court challenge raises issue of “reasonable apprehension of bias”

Sean Murphy*

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is facing a court challenge by the Christian Medical and Dental Society and the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies.  They have filed an application in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice asking for an injunction against enforcement of the College’s controversial new policy, Professional Obligations and Human Rights.  According to the application the College acknowledged that it had received 15,977 submissions during the second consultation concerning the policy, which ended on 20 February, 2015.  The great majority of submissions opposed the policy.

While the consultation ended on 20 February, a working group wrote the final version of the policy by 11 February, at least nine days before the consultation closed.  This is one of the factors that gives rise to concern about what the CMDS application calls either “actual bias” or “a reasonable apprehension of bias” on the part of the working group.

On this point, the statistics provided by the College are of interest.

analysisAccording to the briefing note supplied to the College Council, by 11 February, 2015 the College had received 3,105 submissions.  This means that 12,872 submissions were received from 12 to 20 February inclusive.  In other words, over 80% of the submissions in the second consultation were received after the final version of the policy was written.

Moreover, allowing sufficient time to receive feedback is only the beginning.  Having received them, one would expect that a working group seriously interested in feedback would allow sufficient time to review and analyse the submissions.

During the 64 days of consultation ending 11 February, the College received an average of almost 50 submissions per day.  There were 43 working days during that period.  Assuming someone spent eight full hours every working day reading the submissions, it would have taken one person about seven minutes to review each one.

analysisHowever, during the nine days of consultation ending 20 February, the College received an average of 60 submissions every hour.  With 16 working days available from 12 February to 5 March inclusive, the day before the Council meeting, one person reading eight hours a day would have had no more than 36 seconds to review each submission.

Presumably this will be one of the issues to which the attention of the court will be directed if the case goes to trial.

Gagging conscience, violating humanity

Sean Murphy*

Introduction

In 2008, when the Council of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario was considering the final draft of an earlier policy, Physicians and the Human Rights Code, a member of the Council seems to have been troubled by the policy direction being given to the Colllege by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC).

Speaking during the Council meeting, he drew his colleagues’ attention to a chilling New England Journal of Medicine article by Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel: “Without conscience.”1 It was about the crucial role played by German physicians in supporting Nazi horrors. “How can we explain their betrayal?” Wiesel asked. “What gagged their conscience? What happened to their humanity?”2

Now, however, to the applause of the OHRC,3 the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has approved a policy to gag the consciences of physicians in the province,4 and Saskatchewan is next in line.5  We may soon begin to discover the answers to Wiesel’s questions.

There is no duty to do what is believed to be wrong.

Policies like those adopted in Ontario and proposed in Saskatchewan are incoherent because they purport to include a duty to do what one believes to be wrong in a code of ethics or ethical guidelines, the very purpose of which is to encourage physicians to act ethically and avoid wrongdoing.

Beyond this, when discussion about difficulties associated with the exercise of freedom of conscience in health care is repeatedly characterized as “the problem of conscientious objection,”6 it becomes clear that the underlying premise is that people and institutions ought to do what they believe to be wrong, and that refusal to do what one believes to be wrong requires special justification.  This is exactly the opposite of what one would expect. Most people believe that we should not do what we believe to be wrong, and that refusing to do what we believe to be wrong is the norm. It is wrongdoing that needs special justification or excuse, not refusing to do wrong.

The inversion is troubling, since “a duty to do what is wrong” is being advanced by those who support the “war on terror.” They argue that there is, indeed, a duty to do what is wrong, and that this includes a duty to kill non-combatants and to torture terrorist suspects.7 The claim is sharply contested,8 but it does indicate how far a duty to do what is wrong might be pushed. In Quebec, in Ontario and in Saskatchewan it is now being pushed as far as requiring physicians to participate in killing patients, even if they believe it is wrong: even if they believe that it is homicide.9

This reminder is a warning that the community must be protected against the temptation to give credence to the dangerous idea that is now being advanced by medical regulators in Canada: that a learned or privileged class, a profession or state institutions can legitimately compel people to do what they believe to be wrong – even gravely wrong – and punish them if they refuse.

Forcing someone to do wrong is a violation of humanity, not a limitation of freedom.

Attempts to suppress freedom of conscience and religion in the medical profession are often defended using a statement of the Supreme Court of Canada: “the freedom to hold beliefs is broader than the freedom to act on them.”10

Click here to access Journal.

Click here to access Journal.

The statement is not wrong, but it is inadequate. It is simply not responsive to many of the questions about the exercise of freedom of conscience that arise in a society characterized by a plurality of moral and political viewpoints and conflicting demands. More refined distinctions are required. One of them is the distinction between perfective and preservative freedom of conscience, which reflects the two ways in which freedom of conscience is exercised: by pursuing apparent goods and avoiding apparent evils.11

It is generally agreed that the state may limit the exercise of perfective freedom of conscience if it is objectively harmful, or if the limitation serves the common good. Although there may be disagreement about how to apply these principles, and restrictions may go too far, no polity could long exist without restrictions of some sort on human acts, so some limitation of perfective freedom of conscience is not unexpected.

If the state can legitimately limit perfective freedom of conscience by preventing people from doing what they believe to be good, it does not follow that it is equally free to suppress preservative freedom of conscience by forcing them to do what they believe to be wrong. There is a significant difference between preventing someone from doing the good that he wishes to do and forcing him to do the evil that he abhors.

We have noted the danger inherent in the notion of a “duty to do what is wrong.” Here we add that, as a general rule, it is fundamentally unjust and offensive to suppress preservative freedom of conscience by forcing people to support, facilitate or participate in what they perceive to be wrongful acts; the more serious the wrongdoing, the graver the injustice and offence. It is a policy fundamentally opposed to civic friendship, which grounds and sustains political community and provides the strongest motive for justice. It is inconsistent with the best traditions and aspirations of liberal democracy, since it instills attitudes more suited to totalitarian regimes than to the demands of responsible freedom.

This does not mean that no limit can ever be placed on preservative freedom of conscience. It does mean, however, that even the strict approach taken to limiting other fundamental rights and freedoms is not sufficiently refined to be safely applied to limit freedom of conscience in its preservative form. Like the use of potentially deadly force, if the restriction of preservative freedom of conscience can be justified at all, it will only be as a last resort and only in the most exceptional circumstances.

None of these conditions have been met in Ontario or in Saskatchewan.

[PDF Text]


Notes:

1.  Email to the Administrator, Protection of Conscience Project, from P__ H__ (present at College Council meeting 18 September, 2008) (2014-02-11, 10:10 am)

2.  Wiesel E. “Without Conscience.N Engl J Med 352;15 april14, 2005 (Accessed 2014-02-24)

3.  Letter from the Office of the Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission, to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, dated 19 February, 2015, Re CPSO Draft Policy: Professional Obligations and Human Rights

4.  College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, Policy #2-15: Professional Obligations and Human Rights (Updated March, 2015) (Accessed 2015-03-16)

5.  College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, Policy: Conscientious Refusal.

6.  For example, Cannold L. “The questionable ethics of unregulated conscientious refusal.”  ABC Religion and Ethics, 25 March, 2011. (Accessed 2013-08-11)

7.  Gardner J. “Complicity and Causality,” 1 Crim. Law & Phil. 127, 129 (2007). Cited in Haque, A.A. “Torture, Terror, and the Inversion of Moral Principle.” New Criminal Law Review, Vol. 10, No. 4, pp. 613-657, 2007; Workshop: Criminal Law, Terrorism, and the State of Emergency, May 2007. (Accessed 2014-02-19)

8.  Haque, A.A. “Torture, Terror, and the Inversion of Moral Principle.” New Criminal Law Review, Vol. 10, No. 4, pp. 613-657, 2007; Workshop: Criminal Law, Terrorism, and the State of Emergency, May 2007. (Accessed 2014-02-19)

9.  Quebec has already passed a law purporting to legalize euthanasia: Murphy S. “Redefining the Practice of Medicine- Euthanasia in Quebec, Part 9: Codes of Ethics and Killing.” Protection of Conscience Project, July, 2014.  The Supreme Court of Canada has ordered legalization of physician assisted suicide and physician administered euthanasia.  When the ruling takes effect in early 2016, the Ontario and Saskatchewan policies, as written, will have the effect of forcing physicians unwilling to kill patients or help them kill themselves to find a colleague willing to do so.

10.  Trinity Western University v. College of Teachers, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 772, 2001 SCC 31 (Accessed 2014-07-29)

11.  This section of the paper draws from an extended discussion of the subject in Murphy S, Geunis S.J. “Freedom of Conscience in Health Care: Distinctions and Limits.” J Bioeth Inq. 2013 Oct; 10(3): 347-54

“The core of a modern pluralism”

Sean Murphy*

Introduction

In 2008 the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) attempted to suppress freedom of conscience and religion in the medical profession in Ontario on the grounds that physicians are “providers of secular public services.”1   The hostility of the OHRC toward religious believers in the medical profession contributed significantly to anti-religious sentiments and a climate of religious intolerance in the province.  This was displayed last year during a public crusade against three Ottawa physicians who refused to prescribe or refer for contraceptives or abortion, in part, because of their religious beliefs.2

Despite the fact that there was no evidence that even a single person in Ontario has ever been unable to access medical services because of conscientious objection by a physician, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has now adopted a policy that requires all physicians who object to a procedure for reasons of conscience to direct patients to a colleague willing to provide it.3 A policy to the same effect has been approved in principle by the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Saskatchewan – also without evidence – though it is now under review.4

Submissions made by the Protection of Conscience Project to the Colleges in Ontario and Saskatchewan during public consultations included a discussion of religious belief, secularism and pluralism which has been adapted for this presentation.  The key points are that a proper understanding of “the secular” includes religious belief rather than excluding it, that the core of a modern pluralism requires the accommodation of different world views in the public square, and that this end is not served by authoritarian edicts issued by medical regulators.

A secular public square includes religious belief.

Those who would suppress freedom of conscience and religion in the medical profession on the grounds that physicians are “providers of secular public services”(emphasis added), erroneously presume that what is “secular” excludes religious belief.  The error is exposed by Dr. Iain Benson in his paper, Seeing Through the Secular Illusion.5

Dr. Benson emphasizes that the full bench of the Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously affirmed that “secular” must be understood to include religious belief.  The relevant statement by the Court opens with the observation that “nothing in the [Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms], political or democratic theory, or a proper understanding of pluralism demands that atheistically based moral positions trump religiously based moral positions on matters of public policy.”

The Court rejected that view that,  “if one’s moral view manifests from a religiously grounded faith, it is not to be heard in the public square, but if it does not, then it is publicly acceptable.”

The problem with this approach is that everyone has ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ in something, be it atheistic, agnostic or religious. To construe the ‘secular’ as the realm of the ‘unbelief’ is therefore erroneous. Given this, why, then, should the religiously informed conscience be placed at a public disadvantage or disqualification? To do so would be to distort liberal principles in an illiberal fashion and would provide only a feeble notion of pluralism. The key is that people will disagree about important issues, and such disagreement, where it does not imperil community living, must be capable of being accommodated at the core of a modern pluralism.6

Thus, the Supreme Court of Canada has acknowledged that secularists, atheists and agnostics are believers, no less than Christians, Muslims, Jews and persons of other faiths. Neither a secular state nor a secular health care system (tax-paid or not) must be purged of the expression of religious belief.  Instead, rational democratic pluralism in Canada must make room for physicians who act upon religious beliefs when practising medicine.

However, College officials in Ontario and Saskatchewan are taking exactly the opposite approach.  They demand morally significant participation by all physicians in procedures known to be contrary to the teaching of major religious groups.  Such policies are inimical to the presence of religious believers in medical practice.  Where the Supreme Court has recognized that religious believers and religious communities are part of the warp and woof of the Canadian social fabric, medical regulators in Ontario and Saskatchewan act as if they don’t exist – or should be made to disappear.

Accommodate different conceptions of “the good life.”

It is worthwhile to contrast the illiberal attitude of College officials with the approach taken by Madame Justice Bertha Wilson of the Supreme Court of Canada in the landmark 1988 case R. v. Morgentaler. Addressing issues of freedom of conscience and abortion, Madame Justice Wilson argued that “an emphasis on individual conscience and individual judgment . . . lies at the heart of our democratic political tradition.”7

At this point in the judgement, Wilson was not discussing whether or not the conscience of a woman should prevail over that of an objecting physician, but how the conscientious judgement of an individual should stand against that of the state. Her answer was that, in a free and democratic society, “the state will respect choices made by individuals and, to the greatest extent possible, will avoid subordinating these choices to any one conception of the good life.”8  This statement was affirmed unanimously in 1991 by a panel of five judges, and by the full bench of the Court in1996.9

The accommodation recommended by Madame Justice Wilson and the kind of modern pluralism advocated by the Supreme Court of Canada contrast sharply with the authoritarian approach being taken by Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons in Ontario and Saskatchewan.

Avoid authoritarian solutions.

Making room in the public square for people motivated by different and sometimes opposing beliefs can lead to conflict, but, as we have seen, the Supreme Court warns against that singling out and excluding religious belief or conscientious convictions in order to prevent or minimize such conflict is a perverse distortion of liberal principles.6

It is also dangerous. It overlooks the possibility that some secularists – like some religious believers – can be uncritical and narrowly dogmatic in the development of their ethical thinking, and intolerant of anyone who disagrees with them. They might see them as heretics who must be driven from the professions, from the public square, perhaps from the country: sent to live across the sea with their “own kind,” as one of the crusaders against the Ottawa physicians put it.10

University of Victoria law professor Mary Anne Waldron provides a reminder and a warning:

Conflict in belief is an endemic part of human society and likely always will be. What has changed, I think, is the resurrection of the idea that we can and should compel belief through legal and administrative processes, or, if not compel the belief itself, at least force conformity. Unfortunately, that begins the cycle of repression that, if we are to maintain a democracy, we must break.11

On this point, it is essential to note that a secular ethic is not morally neutral.12 The claim that a secular ethic is morally neutral – or that one can practise medicine in a morally “neutral” fashion- is not merely fiction. It is an example of “bad faith authoritarianism. . . a dishonest way of advancing a moral view by pretending to have no moral view.”13

Ontario’s new policy and the one being considered in Saskatchewan illustrate one of the most common examples of “bad faith authoritarianism”: the pretence that forcing a physician who will not kill a patient to find someone willing to do so is an acceptable compromise that does not involve morally significant participation in killing.

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Notes:

1.  Submission of the Ontario Human Rights Commission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario Regarding the draft policy, “Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code.” 15 August, 2008. (Accessed 2014-03-11), citing Norton K.C. “Letter to Ontario’s Attorney General expressing concern about allowing public officials to refuse to marry same-sex couples.” (Accessed 2014-03-11)

2.  Murphy S.  “NO MORE CHRISTIAN DOCTORS.”  Protection of Conscience Project (March, 2014)

3.  College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, Policy #2-15: Professional Obligations and Human Rights (Updated March, 2015) (Accessed 2015-03-16)

4.  College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, Policy: Conscientious Refusal.

5.  Benson, I.T., “Seeing Through the Secular Illusion” (July 29, 2013). NGTT Deel 54 Supplementum 4, 2013. (Accessed 2014-02-18)

6.  Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36 [2002] 4 S.C.R. 710 (SCC), para. 137 (Accessed 2014-08-03). Dr. Benson adds: “Madam Justice McLachlin, who wrote the decision of the majority, accepted the reasoning of Mr. Justice Gonthier on this point thus making his the reasoning of all nine judges in relation to the interpretation of ‘secular.'” Benson I.T., “Seeing Through the Secular Illusion” (July 29, 2013). NGTT Deel 54 Supplementum 4, 2013.  (Accessed 2014-02-18)

7.  R. v. Morgentaler  (1988)1 S.C.R 30 (Supreme Court of Canada) p. 165.  Accessed 2015-02-26.

8.  R. v. Morgentaler  (1988)1 S.C.R 30 (Supreme Court of Canada) p. 166. Accessed 2015-02-26.

9.  R. v. Salituro[1991] 3 S.C.R. 654; Québec (Curateur public) c. Syndicat national des employés de l’Hôpital St-Ferdinand, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 211 (Accessed 2015-03-05).

10.   Murphy S. “NO MORE CHRISTIAN DOCTORS. Appendix C: Radical Handmaids Facebook Page Timeline”, T___ M___, 29 January, 2014, 6:56 pm.”
Protection of Conscience Project (March, 2014)

11.  Waldron, MA, “Campuses, Courts and Culture Wars.” Convivium, February/March 2014, p. 33

12.  The distinction between ethics and morality is mainly a matter of usage. Recent trends identify ethics as the application of morality to a specific discipline, like medicine or law. In a broader and older sense, ethics is concerned with how man ought to live, while the study of morality focuses on ethical obligations. See the entry on “Ethics and Morality” in Honderich T. (Ed.) The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (2nd Ed.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

13.   “The question of neutrality has been profoundly obscured by the mistake of confusing neutrality with objectivity… neutrality and objectivity are not the same… objectivity is possible but neutrality is not. To be neutral, if that were possible, would be to have no presuppositions whatsoever. To be objective is to have certain presuppositions, along with the manners that allow us to keep faith with them.” Budziszewski J., “Handling Issues of Conscience.” The Newman Rambler, Vol. 3, No. 2, Spring/Summer 1999, P. 4.

Medicine, morality and humanity

Sean Murphy*

Introduction

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the state regulator of the practice of medicine in the province, has approved a policy that requires all physicians who object to a procedure for reasons of conscience to facilitate the procedure by referring patients to a colleague who will provide it. A policy to the same effect has been approved in principle by the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Saskatchewan, though it is now under review.2

Remarkably, no evidence was provided to justify the policy in either province.  There is no evidence that even a single person in either Ontario or Saskatchewan has ever been unable to access medical services because of conscientious objection by a physician.  Materials provided by the working group to the College Council in Ontario were deficient, erroneous and seriously misleading,3 while the development of the policy in Saskatchewan was marked by what appears to be a pattern of concealment, selective disclosure, and false or misleading statements.4

Submissions made by the Protection of Conscience Project to the Colleges in Ontario and Saskatchewan during public consultations included a discussion of morality and medical practice which has been adapted for this presentation.

Medicine is a moral enterprise.

physician-muslimThe practice of medicine is an inescapably moral enterprise precisely because physicians are always seeking to do some kind of good and avoid some kind of evil for their patients.5 However, the moral aspect of practice as it relates to the conduct and moral responsibility of a physician is usually implicit, not explicit. It is normally eclipsed by the needs of the patient and exigencies of practice. But it is never absent; every decision concerning treatment is a moral decision, whether or not the physician specifically adverts to that fact.

This point is frequently overlooked when a physician, for reasons of conscience, declines to participate in or provide a service or procedure that is routinely provided by his colleagues. They may be disturbed because they assume that, in making a moral decision about treatment, he has done something unusual, even improper. Seeing nothing wrong with the procedure, they see no moral judgement involved in providing it. In their view, the objector has brought morality into a situation where it doesn’t belong, and, worse, it is his morality.

In point of fact, the moral issue was there all along, but they didn’t notice it because they have been unreflectively doing what they were taught to do in medical school and residency, and what society expects them to do. Nonetheless, in deciding to provide the procedure they also implicitly concede its goodness; they would not provide it if they did not think it was a good thing to do. What unsettles them is really not that the objector has taken a moral position on the issue, but that he has made an explicit moral judgement that differs from their implicit one.

Hence, the demand that physicians must not be allowed to act upon beliefs is unacceptable because it is impossible; one cannot act morally without reference to beliefs, and cannot practise medicine without reference to beliefs. Relevant here is a comment by Professor Margaret Somerville. “In ethics,” she writes,”impossible goals are not neutral; they cause harm.”6

Once medicine is understood to be a moral enterprise, it becomes easier to understand why it is a mistake to think that moral or ethical views are unwelcome intruders upon the physician-patient relationship. Morality and ethics are actually intrinsic to it. Of course, some moral or ethical views may be erroneous, but that is a different matter that must be addressed by explaining why they are erroneous. It will not do to pretend, for example, that the claim that best medical practice in some circumstances means killing a patient does not involve at least implicit moral or ethical judgements.

Consistent with the practice of medicine understood as a moral enterprise, a physician first considers the well-being of the patient.7 Patient-centred medical practice is directed to ensuring good medical care, but good medical care is not provided by automatons. Medical schools do not manufacture made-to-order products that perform according to factory default settings, or finely machined cogs that keep health care delivery apparatus running smoothly. Medicine is a moral enterprise, morality is a human enterprise, and physicians, no less than patients, are moral agents.

Morality is a human enterprise.

All public behaviour – how one treats other people, how one treats animals, how one treats the environment – is determined by what one believes.  Some of these beliefs are religious, some not, but all are beliefs. This applies no less to “secular” ethics than to religious ethics.  That human dignity exists – or that it does not – or that human life is worthy of unconditional reverence – or merely conditional respect – and notions of beneficence, justice and equality are not the product of scientific enquiry, but rest upon faith: upon beliefs about human nature, the meaning and purpose of life, the existence of good and evil.

That everyone is a believer reflects the fact that the practice of morality is a human enterprise,8 but it is not a scientific enterprise. The classic ethical question, “How ought I to live?” is not a scientific question and cannot be answered by any of the disciplines of natural science, though natural science can provide raw material needed for adequate answers.

Answers to the question, “How ought I to live?” reflect two fundamental moral norms; do good, avoid evil. These basics have traditionally been undisputed; the disputes begin with identifying or defining good and evil and what constitutes “doing” and “avoiding.” Such explorations are the province of philosophy, ethics, theology and religion.

Internationally, religion continues to be the principal means by which concepts of good and evil and right and wrong conduct are sustained and transmitted.  Nonetheless, since the practice of morality is a human enterprise, reflections about morality and the development and transmission of ideas about right and wrong also occurs within culture and society outside the framework of identifiable academic disciplines and religions.

In consequence, the secular public square is populated by people with any number of moral viewpoints, some religious, some not: some tied to particular philosophical or ethical systems, some not: but all of them believers. There is no reason to deny the freedom to act upon religious belief because it is religious: no reason, that is, apart from anti-religious bigotry.

Further, since morality is a human enterprise, moral judgement is an essential activity of every human person, moral judgement necessarily involves some kind of individual or personal conviction, and maintaining one’s personal moral integrity is the aspiration of anyone who wishes to live rightly.  Thus, beliefs are “personal,” in the sense that one personally accepts them and is committed to them.

However, this does not mean that such “personal” beliefs are parochial, insignificant or erroneous. Christian, Jewish and Muslim beliefs, for example, are shared by hundreds of millions of people. They “personally” adhere to their beliefs, just as non-religious believers “personally” adhere to their non-religious beliefs. In neither case does the fact of this “personal” commitment provide grounds to set beliefs aside. Thus, it is important to recognize that pejorative or suspicious references to “personal” beliefs or “personal” values frequently reflect underlying and perhaps unexamined prejudice against them.

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Notes:

1.  College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, Policy #2-15: Professional Obligations and Human Rights (Updated March, 2015) (Accessed 2015-03-16)

2.  College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, Policy: Conscientious Refusal.

3.  Protection of Conscience Project, Submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario Re: Professional Obligations and Human Rights, Appendix “B”: Unreliability of Jurisdictional Review by College Working Group

4.  Protection of Conscience Project, Submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan Re: Conscientious Refusal, Appendix “A” and “B”

5.  Maddock J.W. “Humanizing health care services. The practice of medicine as a moral enterprise.” J Natl Med Assoc. 1973 November; 65(6): 501–passim. PMCID: PMC2609038  (Accessed 2014-02-18)

6.  Somerville M. “Why are they throwing brickbats at God?” MercatorNet, 1 June, 2007 (Accessed 2014-08-03)

7.  Canadian Medical Association, Code of Ethics (2004): Fundamental Responsibilities No. 1. (Accessed 2014-02-15)

8.  This presumption obviously underlies standard bioethics texts. See, for example, Beauchamp TL, Childress JF, Principles of Biomedical Ethics (7th ed) New York: Oxford University Press, 2013