When can a doctor conscientiously object?

America

Bernard G. Prusak*

Over the last decade, the culture wars in the United States have broken new ground: They have become battles over the rights of conscience. For example, now that same-sex marriage is a right, the question before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop is whether its sympathetic, telegenic owner, Jack Phillips, is within his rights to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. Similarly, under the Obama administration, the court heard arguments more than once over whether employers who object on religious grounds to contraceptives or abortion should be exempted from having to provide employees health insurance that includes such services.

By contrast, debates over conscientious objection in medicine have not had the same notoriety, though they have broken out repeatedly among health care professionals and medical ethicists since the turn of the century, when there was a flare-up over pharmacists’ refusing to fill prescriptions for emergency contraceptives.

A bill currently before the House of Lords has brought conscientious objection in medicine into widespread public discussion in the United Kingdom, if not yet on the other side of the Atlantic. . . [Full text]

Hawaii legalizes assisted suicide: Refusing to refer for suicide may incur legal liability

Sean Murphy*

Assisted suicide will become legal in Hawaii on 1 January, 2019, as a result of the passage of the Our Care, Our Choice Act. Introduced in the state House of Representatives only in January, it passed both the House and Senate and was approved by Governor David Ige on 5 April. Beginning next year, physicians will be able to write prescriptions for lethal medications for Hawaiian residents who are capable of informed consent, who are at least 18 years old, and who have been diagnosed with a terminal, incurable disease expected to result in death within six months.1

And beginning next year, Hawaiian physicians who refuse to facilitate assisted suicide by referring patients to a willing colleague may face discipline — including expulsion from the medical profession — or other legal liabilities. Hawaii could become one of only two jurisdictions in the world where willingness to refer patients for suicide is a condition for practising medicine.2 . . . [Full text]

Has stopping eating and drinking become a path to assisted dying?

Policy Options

Jocelyn Downie

Can patients, by stopping eating and drinking, make themselves meet the criteria for a “grievous and irremediable medical condition,” the requirement to access MAiD?

Ms. S. was a 56-year-old woman with advanced multiple sclerosis. In June 2016, when her suffering became intolerable and her state of decline was advanced as a result of her incurable medical condition, she asked Dr. Ellen Wiebe for medical assistance in dying (MAiD). Ms. S. had earlier declined potentially effective treatment. Dr. Wiebe concluded that Ms. S. met most of the eligibility criteria for MAiD in Canada: incurable condition, advanced state of decline in capability, and enduring and intolerable suffering not remediable by any means acceptable to her. However, as she did not believe that Ms. S. would die “in the foreseeable future,” she deemed her not to meet the final eligibility criterion for MAiD: “natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.” Ms. S. asked again for MAiD in December 2016 and January 2017 and each time she was deemed ineligible on the same grounds. . . [Full Text]

Medics should not be forced to do procedures they object to on ethical grounds

The Conversation
Reproduced with permission

David S. Oderberg*

For most people, the term “conscientious objection” evokes images of Quakers and pacifists registering to avoid military service. Many countries have a long and honourable tradition of accommodating such conscientious objectors. It might not be about bombs and bullets, but healthcare professionals often find themselves fighting a conscience battle of their own.

In the UK, Canada, Sweden and other countries, conscientious objectors in healthcare have found themselves discriminated against in various ways – whether through dismissal, lack of promotion, or more subtle forms of coercion. Most cases involve doctors, nurses or midwives refusing to perform abortion or euthanasia (or to assist with either). Yet these happen, through historical accident, to be the flashpoint of current controversy. . . [Full text]

Answering Physicians Top 5 Legal Questions

In 2017, the medical students’ forum hosted by Canadian Physicians for Life included a question and answer session about legal issues. Albertos Polizogopoulos is lead counsel in the constitutional challenge to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) policy that demands effective referral for all morally contested services, including euthanasia and assisted suicide.  Phil Horgan, a Toronto lawyer, is President of the Catholic Civil Rights League, which jointly intervened in the case with the Faith and Freedom Alliance and Protection of Conscience Project.  Questions have been listed below with the corresponding time segments.  Links have been provided to background material concerning subjects covered in the answers.

1. How can physicians best disclose to their patients their conscientious objections?  (00:00-11:18)

2. What happens when a patient reports a physician to their college for exercising their right to conscientious objection?  (11:18-20:00)

3. How can conscience and religious rights be exercised, practically speaking?  (20:00-23:33)

4. Is there a sense that other provinces are just waiting to see what is going to happen with these current cases going on in Ontario? (23:33-34:35)

5. Can you comment on institutions?  Do they have rights themselves?   (34:45-40:15)

The courts keep inventing new rights, turning our Charter on its head

National Post
Reproduced with permission

John Carpay

If I told you that I wanted to rob a home or store, would you sell me a gun? Presumably not. But what about giving me the name and contact info of another person who is willing to sell me a gun? If you wanted to avoid any participation in my planned robbery, you would refuse to provide a referral.

When it comes to female genital mutilation (the cutting and removal of some or all of a young girl’s external genitalia) the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) recognizes that referring is as bad as providing. The CPSO prohibits this practice, common in many African and Middle Eastern countries. Female genital mutilation causes infection, disease and death in many girls, and life-long health problems for millions of women.

The CPSO policy prohibits physicians from performing, and from referring for, female genital mutilation procedures. Both performing and referring constitute professional misconduct. The reasoning is obvious. If mutilating a girl is wrong, then it’s also wrong to provide a referral for this barbaric procedure.

College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in Toronto, Ont. on Tuesday April 9, 2013.

Sadly, the CPSO abandoned this common-sense approach in the case of Christian Medical and Dental Society vs. CPSO. This court case was about a challenge to the CPSO policy requiring all doctors in Ontario to provide referrals for abortion, assisted suicide, and other medical procedures which some doctors view as harmful to patients and morally wrong. In court the CPSO argued that “a referral is neither an endorsement of the service for which the referral is provided, nor a guarantee that it will be provided.” The CPSO argued that providing a referral is trivial and insignificant, so a doctor would not be violating her conscience when referring a patient for a procedure that the doctor considers harmful. If the CPSO’s courtroom arguments are true, then why prohibit referring for female genital mutilation?

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that the CPSO policy violates the Charter freedom of religion and conscience, but then justified this violation as necessary to ensure “equitable” access to health-care services.

Abortion and assisted suicide are both legal medical procedures. Plenty of doctors are available to provide the one, the other, or both. Having to ask two, three or more doctors for a particular medical service is inconvenient for patients, to be sure.

But does the Charter provide citizens with a legal right to be free from inconvenience? Beyond a bald declaration, the court provides no explanation as to how or why being inconvenienced is a violation of the Charter. Nor does the court explain why it is necessary to force every single doctor in Ontario to provide referrals for abortion and assisted suicide. In other words, even if many doctors refuse to provide referrals for these services, the public would still have ready access to both.

The purpose of the Charter is to protect citizens from government. For example, the Charter should protect health-care workers (and everyone else) from being pressured or coerced by a government body to do what one believes to be wrong.

Conversely, there is no Charter right to force another human being to provide a service that runs contrary to their conscience. Interactions between citizens should be free from coercion. A patient’s power to compel a doctor to do what the doctor believes to be harmful is as destructive as a doctor’s power to compel a patient to do what the patient believes to be harmful.

The doctors who challenged the CPSO policy were not merely asking the court to be spared an inconvenience. Rather, an Ontario doctor who refuses to violate her conscience risks expulsion from the medical profession.

In upholding the CPSO policy, the court confuses fundamental Charter freedoms with personal interests and desires. The court has dismissed the Charter’s protection from government coercion as less important than a newly invented “right” to compel our fellow citizens (in this case doctors) to do what we want them to do. The court has turned the Charter on its head.

Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (Jccf.ca), which intervened in Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada vs. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

 

Conscientious objection and withdrawal of life support

BioEdge

Xavier Symons

Are British doctors obliged to withdraw life support if requested by a patient?

This question was raised by Iain Brassington of the University of Manchester, in response to the introduction of the Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill in the British parliament.

The bill would protect health care professionals who conscientiously object to a range of controversial medical procedures.

Brassington suggested that certain clauses of the proposed legislation may conflict with extant civil and criminal law, under which it is unlawful to fail to withdraw treatment (including life-sustaining treatment) from a competent patient who no longer consents to it, or from a patient who lacks capacity if treatment is no longer in her best interests.

Yet in a response post to Brassington, University of Strathclyde law lecturer Mary Neal said that there was no tension between the proposed bill and existing law.

First, Neal observed that existing GMC guidance permits a conscientious objection to withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment. Paragraph 79 of the GMC’s guidance Treatment and care towards the end of life: good practice in decision making (2014) states that doctors can object to withdrawing treatment if their “religious, moral or other personal beliefs” lead them to do so.

“Doctors, at least, are already subject to guidance that tells them they can opt out of involvement in the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment”, Neal writes.

Second, Neal observes that extant case law requiring the withdrawal of treatment of consenting patients applies to Trusts rather than to individual doctors:

When a competent patient indicates that she no longer consents to life-sustaining treatment […]continued treatment is unlawful…But this obligation belongs to the Trust…If an individual professional notifies her employer that she has a belief that forbids her from performing the act of withdrawal (switching off a life support machine, or disconnecting a feeding tube, for example), it is incumbent upon those with management responsibility to assign the task to someone else who has no such objection.

The Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill has progressed passed a second reading in the House of Lords, and will now go before a committee.


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Conscientious Objection: A Quick(ish) Answer

Journal of Medical Ethics

Mary Neal

The Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) [HL] Bill, introduced by the crossbench peer Baroness O’Loan, received its second reading in the House of Lords on Friday 26th January and successfully proceeded to the committee stage.  In a post on this blog the following day, Iain posed a very reasonable question about clause 1(1)(a) of the Bill.  That clause would allow health professionals to refuse to be involved in “the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment”, and Iain asks how this can be compatible with existing civil and criminal law, under which it is unlawful to fail to withdraw treatment (including life-sustaining treatment) from a competent patient who no longer consents to it, or from a patient who lacks capacity if treatment is no longer in her best interests.

Before responding, I should declare an interest: I’m a spokesperson for the Free Conscience campaign, which supports the Bill.  I endorse the Bill’s premise that healthcare professionals should, in key areas of practice, benefit from statutory conscience rights that are both meaningful and effective. . . [Full Text]

Medically assisted dying: What happens when religious and individual rights conflict?

Lawyer Allison Fenske explains how Canadian law works, and how the courts strive to balance competing rights

CBC News

A Winnipeg man’s struggle to be assessed for a medically assisted death while he lives at a faith-based hospital has some questioning how we balance personal and religious rights in Canada.

“I want to die and nobody should come in the way of my deciding how to go about it,” Cheppudira Gopalkrishna, 88, said on Saturday.

However, because Gopalkrishna lives at a faith-based hospital that objects to medical assistance in dying, he has struggled to be assessed by Manitoba’s MAID team under provincial guidelines regulating such deaths. . . [Full text]

 

Contraceptive Coverage and the Balance Between Conscience and Access

Ronit Y. Stahl,PhD; Holly Fernandez Lynch, JD, MBE

When the Obama administration included contraception in the essential benefits package to be covered by employer-sponsored health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, it sought to preserve access for women while addressing the concerns of employers with religious objections. Although the accommodations and exemptions were not enough for some employers, balance was the ultimate goal. This also was reflected in Zubik v Burwell, the Supreme Court’s most recent decision on the matter; on May 16, 2016, the justices remanded the litigants to the lower court so they could be afforded the opportunity to reach a compromise between religious exercise and seamless contraceptive coverage. No further compromise was forthcoming.

Now the Trump administration has rejected balance as a worthwhile goal.1 Its new contraceptive coverage rules, released on October 6, 2017, prioritize conscientious objection over access.2,3 The rules take effect immediately, and new legal challenges, this time on behalf of patients rather than objecting employers, have already begun.4 The new rules preserve the default requirement that employers must include free access to contraceptives as part of their insurance plans. However, the rules now exempt employers with religious or moral objections to contraceptives, without requiring any alternative approaches to ensure that beneficiaries can obtain contraceptives at no cost.2,3
[Full Text]


Stahl RY, Lynch HF. Contraceptive Coverage and the Balance Between Conscience and Access. JAMA. Published online October 19, 2017. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.17086