For Immediate Release
(Ottawa) – In a letter today to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the president of Canadian Physicians for Life, Dr. Will Johnston, expressed concern over a draft policy relating to freedom of conscience and the lack of sufficient notice given by CPSO to all interested stakeholders that a consultation process, which officially ends today, has been underway since the end of June.
Canadian Physicians for Life is asking the College for a 90-day extension on the deadline “due to the importance of the issues at stake and the lack of opportunity interested stakeholders were given to comment on the proposal.”
The draft policy, that CPL only learned of late yesterday, would appear to severely limit the freedom of Ontario physicians to practice according to their conscientious/religious beliefs. The College apparently posted the draft policy document, “Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code” on its website at the end of June and had set a deadline of today for input on the proposal.
In his letter, Dr. Johnston expressed surprise that the College would not have been more proactive in soliciting input on a policy that could have profound impact on both individual doctors and on the profession as a whole. CPSO does not appear to have issued a news release on the consultation process, and pro-life physicians have been taken by surprise.
Dr. Johnston wrote, “The College must have been aware that groups such as Canadian Physicians for Life — which represents doctors from across Canada who respect the dignity of all human life, regardless of age or infirmity — would have concerns with the College’s view that “decisions to restrict medical services offeredâ€¦.that are based on moral or religious belief may contravene the [Ontario Human Rights] Code, and/or constitute professional misconduct.”
“Refusal on conscientious or religious grounds to refer a woman for an abortion could be deemed professional misconduct under this new policy,” Dr. Johnston said.
A similar requirement (that doctors must make abortion referrals regardless of their conscientious beliefs) was put forward in a July 2006 guest editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. It triggered such a firestorm of controversy, that the Journal was compelled to publish a letter from CMA’s Director of Ethics stating that CMA policy did not require physicians to refer for abortions if it would violate their conscientious or religious beliefs.
Dr. Johnston concluded, “There could be serious problems with what the Ontario College is proposing and we need time to study the implications of this policy in detail. If doctors feel coerced into compromising their deepest convictions as a result of this policy, certainly that’s a problem-not only for the integrity of physicians, but also for the welfare of their patients.”
For further comment, please contact:
Will Johnston, MD, President
Canadian Physicians for Life
Canadian Physicians for Life is an educational organization representing physicians who hold that reverence for every human life lies at the root of all medical tradition. Through the ages, this tradition has been expressed in the Oath of Hippocrates. It was rephrased in modern times in the Declaration of Geneva (1948), which says in part, “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, from the time of conception; even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.”