Doctors Should Not Be Forced to Prescribe the Pill

Huffington Post

There’s a Toronto-based business called the Red Tent Sisters, which gives sex advice to women. They are advocates for women’s health, offering classes in everything from contraception to fertility and sexuality. They encourage women to leave hormonal contraception behind. “Ditch the Pill,” says their website, “and reclaim your health, happiness and future fertility.” Ditch the pill? To reclaim health? Happiness? What? The founders of the Red Tent Sisters teach that fertility awareness, also known as natural family planning, provides reliable contraception and is better for women’s health and the environment. There are many methods, but the commonality between them is that they eschew daily hormones and put women themselves in charge of their own sexual health without relying on Big Pharma. In short, fertility awareness is healthy and empowering. It could also soon be forbidden to advise or explain it for Ontario’s doctors. . . [Full Text]

Submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario

Dr. Marc Gabel
President
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario
80 College Street
Toronto, Ontario
MSG 2E2

Dear Dr. Gabel:

Re: Policy Review ‘Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code’

As the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario prepares to review its policy on physicians and the human rights code, we are deeply disturbed by the many negative voices that have been urging the College to force doctors to “check their ethics at the door”. It should be obvious that now, only weeks after Quebec legalized euthanasia, we have arrived at the worst possible time in Canadian history to turn doctors into mere mechanics whose duty is to blindly do the bidding of their clients.

With euthanasia legal in Canada’s second-largest province, the debate about euthanasia and assisted suicide on the national level and in other provinces will only intensify. It is crucial that we preserve the right of our doctors to refuse to participate in such services even if they are legal.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide continue to be regarded as deeply unethical by many world religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

What is legal is no longer necessarily moral, and we would be unwise to place all our trust in the law as our shield, or to train our doctors to disregard their own ethical limits. Indeed, the properly formed conscience of our physicians may sometimes be the last moral and ethical boundary that protects us and provides us with life-affirming options and alternatives that respect our human dignity.

Canadians pride themselves on being a society made up of many cultures, religions and ethnicities. The freedom and democracy that underpin our pluralist society lead us to affirm the right of all citizens to participate fully in roles of leadership and the professional life, including the medical profession.  Any policy that would require doctors to contravene their consciences and to breach their most deeply held values would be outrageously exclusionary and unacceptable, as it would chase out of medicine those principled physicians who refuse to violate the central teachings of many of our largest and most ancient religions. For such doctors, referral for actions that they believe to be contrary to their medical judgement, ethical principles and religious beliefs would be as unacceptable as providing them, as it would be tantamount to outright cooperation with the action in question.

We refuse to believe that this is the kind of Canada that any of us would want to live in. The freedom of conscience is a basic human right recognized by many international agreements and protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is essential to a truly democratic society and foundational for the protection of all other human rights, including the freedom of religion.

As such, we strongly encourage the College, as it reviews its policy on this matter, to continue to protect an authentic freedom of conscience for all physicians. No Canadian citizen, including any physician, should ever be disciplined or risk losing their professional standing for conducting their work in conformity with their most deeply held ethical or religious convictions.

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Reuben Bulka
Congregation Machzikei Hadas, Ottawa

Terrence Prendergast, S.J.
Archbishop of Ottawa

Imam Sarni Metwally
Ottawa Main Mosque

CC:
President of the Ontario Medical Association
President of the Canadian Medical Association
President of the College of Family Physicians of Canada

Prostitution, disability and prohibition

J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2014-102215

Frej Klem Thomsen

Abstract

Criminalisation of prostitution, and minority rights for disabled persons, are important contemporary political issues. The article examines their intersection by analysing the conditions and arguments for making a legal exception for disabled persons to a general prohibition against purchasing sexual services. It explores the badness of prostitution, focusing on and discussing the argument that prostitution harms prostitutes, considers forms of regulation and the arguments for and against with emphasis on a liberty-based objection to prohibition, and finally presents and analyses three arguments for a legal exception, based on sexual rights, beneficence, and luck egalitarianism, respectively. It concludes that although the general case for and against criminalisation is complicated there is a good case for a legal exception. [Full text]

Redefining the Practice of Medicine- Euthanasia in Quebec, Part 9: Codes of Ethics and Killing

Abstract

Lethal InjectionRefusing to participate, even indirectly, in conduct believed to involve serious ethical violations or wrongdoing is the response expected of physicians by professional bodies and regulators.  It is not clear that Quebec legislators or professional regulators understand this.

A principal contributor to this lack of awareness – if not actually the source of it – is the Code of Ethics of the Collège des médecins, because it requires that physicians who are unwilling to provide a service for reasons of conscience help the patient obtain the service elsehere. The President of the Collège was pleased that law will allow physicians to shift responsibilty for finding someone willing to kill a patient to a health system administrator, avoiding an anticipated problem caused by the requirement for referral in the Code of Ethics.  However, the law does not displace the demand for referral in the Code, and can be interpreted to support it.

The Collège des médecins Code of Ethics demand for referral conflicts with the generally accepted view of culpable indirect participation.  Despite this, it continues to be used as a paradigm by other  professions, notably pharmacy.  It is thus not surprising that the College of Pharmacists also anticipates difficulty over the issue of referral.  Like the Collège des médecins, the College of Pharmacists would like to avoid these problems by allowing an objecting pharmacist to shift responsibility for obtaining lethal drugs to a health systems administrator.

Nurses cannot be delegated the task of killing a patient, it is not unreasonable to believe that nurses may be asked to participate in euthanasia in other ways. Thus, there remain concerns about indirect but morally significant participation in killing.  Their Code of Ethics imposes a duty to ensure both continuity of care and “treatment,” which is to include euthanasia.  However, under ARELC, an objecting nurse is required to ensure only continuity of care.  This should not be interpreted to require nurses to participate in euthanasia, though they may be pressured to do so.

As a general rule, it fundamentally unjust and offensive to human dignity to require 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 was a serious error to include this a requirement in code of ethics for Quebec physicians and pharmacists. The error became intuitively obvious to the Collège des médecins and College of Pharmacists when the subject shifted from facilitating access to birth control to facilitating the killing of patients.

A policy of mandatory referral of the kind found in the Code of Ethics of the Collège des médecins  is not only erroneous, but dangerous.  It establishes the priniciple that people can be compelled to do what they believe to be wrong – even gravely wrong – and punish them if they refuse.  It purports to entrench  a ‘duty to do what is wrong’ in medical practice, including a duty to kill or facilitate the killing of patients. To hold that the state or a profession can compel someone to commit or even to facilitate what he sees as murder is extraordinary.

Quebec’s medical establishment can correct the error by removing the mandatory referral provisions of their codes of ethics that nullify freedom of conscience.  This would prevent objecting physicians and pharmacists from being cited for professional misconduct for refusing to facilitate euthanasia or disciplined for refusing to facilitate other procedures to which they object for reasons of conscience, including contraception and abortion.  This would almost certainly antagonize consumers who have been conditioned to expect health care workers to set aside moral convictions.

It remains to be seen whether the Quebec medical establishment will maintain the erroneous provisions, preferring to force objecting health care workers to become parties to homicide rather than risk occasionally inconveniencing people, such as the young Ontario woman and her supporters who were outraged because she had to drive around the block to obtain The Pill. [Full Text]

Redefining the Practice of Medicine- Euthanasia in Quebec, Part 8: Hospitality and Lethal Injection

Abstract

Doctor Examining an Elderly PatientUnder the Act Respecting End of Life Care (ARELC) palliative care hospices may permit euthanasia under the MAD protocol on their premises, but they do not have to do so.  Patients must be advised of their policy before admission.  The government included another section of ARELC to provide the same exemption for La Michel Sarrazin, a private hospital.  The exemptions were provided for purely pragmatic and political reasons.

The exemptions have been challenged by organizations that want hospices forced to kill patients who ask for MAD, or at least to allow physicians to come in to provide the service.  Hospice representatives rejected the first demand and gave mixed responses to the second.  A spokesman for the Alliance of Quebec Hospices confirmed that palliative care hospices that provide euthanasia will not be excluded from the Alliance.

A prominent hospice spokesman predicted that the pressures would increase after the passage of ARELC, and that hospices refusing to provide euthanasia would operate in an increasingly hostile climate.

A former minister of health rejected the challenges to the exemptions and insisted that the policy of hospices be respected, appealing to the principles of autonomy and freedom of choice.  Consideration of freedom of conscience is irrelevant to this approach, and the description of the problem as a conflict of autonomy actually precludes a successful resolution by an appeal to the principle giving rise to it.

While the former minister of health wanted the autonomy of hospices explicitly set out in law, the only requirement in ARELC is that regional health authorities consult with institutions and palliative care hospices in their territories before making rules.  Mere consultation may be insufficient to protect the integrity of hospices in the long term. [Full Text]

Redefining the Practice of Medicine- Euthanasia in Quebec, Part 7: Refusing to Kill

Abstract

nursewearyIt is important identify problems that the Act poses for those who object to euthanasia for reasons of conscience, and to consider how objecting health care workers might avoid or respond to coercion by the government and the state medical and legal establishments.  The goal here is to ensure that conscientious objectors to euthanasia will be able to continue to work in health care without becoming complicit in what they consider to be wrongdoing.

Physicians may refuse to provide euthanasia if the patient is legally ineligible, and for other reasons, including conscientious objection.  ARELC requires physicians who refuse to provide euthanasia for any reason other than non-eligibility to notify a designated adminstrator, who then becomes responsible for finding a MAD physician.  The idea is to have the institution or health care system completely relieve the physician of responsibility for facilitating the procedure.

It would be preferable to end the involvement of the objecting physician with refusal, accompanied by a suggestion that the patient will have to look for assistance from other sources.  This might be achieved if objecting physicians were to notify both executive directors and patients in advance that they will not provide or facilitate euthanasia.

A more sensitive problem attends the requirement that an objecting physician forward  a euthanasia request form to the designated administrator, since that is more clearly connected to the ulitmate killing of a patient.  Since the requirement to forward the request applies only if it has been given to the physician, this might be avoided if the objecting physician made his position clear in advance, and/or refused to accept such a request.  Such complications could avoided if administrators were to adopt a policy to the effect that a health care professional who witnesses and countersigns a euthanasia request to arrange for MAD services is responsible for arranging them.

The protection of conscience provision in ARELC distinguishes physicians from other health professionals, providing less protection for physicians than for others.  Other health care professionals may refuse to “take part” (participate) in killing a patient for reasons of conscience.  Physicians may refuse only “to administer” euthanasia – a very specific action –  which seems to suggest that they are expected to participate in other ways.

Some Quebec physicians may be unwilling to provide euthanasia while the criminal law stands, even if they do not object to the procedure. Quebec’s Attorney General may be unwilling to provide the extraordinary kind of immunity sought by physicians, which exceeds what was recommended by the Select Committee on Dying with Dignity, and some physicians may be unwilling to provide euthanasia without it.

Finally, as long as euthanasia remains a criminal offence, physicians or other entities responsible for issuing or administering MAD guidelines may respond to requests for euthanasia precisely as they would respond to requests to become involved in first degree murder: with total refusal to co-operate.  Even a partial  and scattered response of this kind would likely be administratively troublesome.

Patients may lodge complaints against physicians who refuse to provide or facilitate euthanasia with institutions and the regulatory authority, regardless of the reasons for refusal. [Full Text]

Redefining the Practice of Medicine- Euthanasia in Quebec, Part 5: An Obligation to Kill

Abstract

Confident DoctorsStatistics from jurisdictions where euthanasia and/or assisted suicide are legal suggest that the majority of physicians do not participate directly in the procedures.  Statistics in Oregon and Washington state indicate that the proportion of licensed physicians directly involved in assisted suicide is extremely small.  At most, 2.31% of all Belgian physicians were directly involved in reported euthanasia cases, and the actual number could be much lower.  A maximum of 9% to 12% of all Dutch physicians have been directly involved, most of them general practitioners.  The current situation in Belgium and the Netherlands suggests that, for some time to come, a substantial majority of Quebec physicians will probably not lethally inject patients or provide second opinions supporting the practice.

It is anticipated that between 150 and 600 patients will be killed annually in Quebec by lethal injection or otherwise under the MAD protocol authorized by ARELC.  While these estimates amount to only a small percentage of the deaths in the province each year, and while Quebec has about 8,000 physicians in general practice, there is concern that only a minority of physicians will be willing to provide euthanasia, and it may be difficult to implement ARELC.

The reason for the concern appears to be that ARELC purports to establish MAD as a legal “right” that can be exercised and enforced anywhere in the province, but physicians willing to provide the service are unlikely to be found everywhere.  As a result, in some areas, if no physicians are willing to provide MAD services, patients wanting euthanasia may be unable to exercise the “right” guaranteed by the statute.

Rather than deny either patients’ access to euthanasia or physicians’ freedom of conscience, several mechanisms have been proposed to accommodate both.  Delegation is not permitted by law, and transfer of patients will not normally be feasible.  However, workable alternatives include the advance identification of willing physicians in each region, the use of electronic communcation services to permit remote consultation and the establishment of mobile “flying squads” of euthanatists to provide services not otherwise available in some parts of the province.

Euthanasia proponents deny that they intend to force physicians to personally kill patients, but the exercise of freedom of conscience by objecting physicians who refuse to kill patients can lead to unjust discrimination against them.  Discriminatory screening of physicians unwilling to kill patients can be effected by denying them employment in their specialties and denying them hospital privileges.  By such strategies one can truthfully affirm that physicians are not actually being forced to kill, although those unwilling to do so may be forced to change specialties, leave the profession or emigrate. [Full Text]

Redefining the Practice of Medicine- Euthanasia in Quebec, Part 4: The Problem of Killing

Abstract

Impartiality, complicity and perversityThe original text of Bill 52 did not define “medical aid dying” (MAD), but it was understood that, whatever the law actually said, it was meant to authorize physicians to kill patients who met MAD guidelines.  The Minister of Health admitted that it qualifed as homicide, while others acknowledged that MAD meant intentionally causing the death of a person, and that its purpose was death.  Various witnesses in favour of the bill referred explicitly to lethal injection and the speed of the expected death of a patient.

Given the moral or ethical gravity involved in killing, it is not surprising to find serious disagreement about MAD among health care workers.  Conflicting claims made about the extent of opposition to or support for euthanasia within health care professions are difficult to evaluate, but a review of the transcripts of the legislative committee hearings into Bill 52 is instructive.

One physician member of the committee was shocked by the assertion that there is no  moral, ethical, or legal difference betwen withdrawing life support and lethally injecting a patient.  Hospices and palliative care physicians rejected participation in euthanasia.  Sharp differences of opinion among other health care workers were reported.  Support for killing patients by lethal injection was likened to support for the death penalty; that is, many more agreed with the act in principle than were willing to do the actual killing.  So marked was the evidence of opposition to euthanasia that doubts were raised about the possiblity of implementing the law.

Since the law was passed as a result of assurances from the Quebec medical establishment that it could be implemented, a committee member who is now a minister of the Quebec government warned that they would be called to account if it is found that few physicians are willing to participate.  This political pressure is likely to provide an additional incentive for the medical establishment to secure the compliance of Quebec physicians.

The introduction of euthanasia into Quebec’s health care system is to be accomplished using the structures and powers established by other Quebec statutes that govern the delivery of health care in the province, which have established a multi-layered and overlapping bureaucracy of committees, councils, commissions, boards, directors, examiners, coordinators, syndics and commissioners.  Physicians and other health care providers who object to euthanasia will find their working environments increasingly controlled by a MAD matrix functioning within this system, a prominent feature of which is an emphasis on patient rights.

Everyone authorized to enact or supervise adherence to policies or standards can become a MAD functionary, using codes of ethics, protocols, guidelines, directives, etc. to normalize euthanasia. Similarly, every disciplinary and complaints procedure can be used to force participation in MAD services.  Those who openly advocate refusal to provide or facilitate euthanasia can be fined from $1,500.00 to $40,000.00 per day under Quebec’s  Professional Code if they are deemed to have helped, encouraged, advised or consented to a member of a profession violating the profession’s code of ethics. [Full Text]

Redefining the Practice of Medicine- Euthanasia in Quebec, Part 2: ARELC in Detail

Abstract

Lab Technician Using MicroscopeAn Act Respecting End-of-Life Care (“ARELC”) is intended to legalize euthanasia by physicians in the province of Quebec.  It replaces the original Bill 52, the subject of a previous commentary by the Project. ARELC purports to establish a right to euthanasia for a certain class of patients by including it under the umbrella of “end-of-life care.”  ALERC calls euthanasia for competent patients “medical aid in dying” (MAD).  ALERC provides for but does not  identify euthanasia for incompetent patients, called here Euthanasia Below the Radar (EBTR).

ARELC’s definition of palliative care clearly distinguishes palliative care from MAD.  In defining MAD, the statute does not say “kill,”  but employs a euphemism: “hastening death.”  Nonetheless, it is obvious that ARELC authorizes a physician to kill patients.

The MAD guidelines for euthanasia restrict it to legally competent persons at least 18 years old who are insured under the provincial Health Insurance Act.  Beyond age, legal competence and residency/insurance, someone seeking euthanasia must be at “the end of life,” suffering from an incurable serious illness, in an advanced state of irreversible decline and suffering from constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain.  The patient need not be terminally ill and is free to refuse effective palliative treatments.

A qualifying patient must personally make a written request for MAD “in a free and informed manner.” It must be signed in the presence of professional, who must also sign the request. The attending physician must confirm the eligibility of the patient and the free and informed nature of the request. He must verify the persistence of suffering and a continuing desire for euthanasia, speak to other members of the health care team and see that the patient is able to discuss the decision with others. However, the physician cannot advise family members unless the patient so wishes. Thus, a physician may kill a patient without the knowledge of the family. Finally, the attending physician must obtain a written opinion of an independent physician confirming eligibility for euthanasia.

Only physicians may administer the lethal drugs or substances, and, having done so, must remain with a patient until he dies. Physicians who provide MAD must report the fact to institutional authorities or the College of Physicians, as well as the Commission on End-of-Life Care.

A central role in the provision of euthanasia is assigned to institutional councils of physicians, dentists and pharmacists (or, in their absence, institutional directors of care).  They are to adopt MAD guidelines, and then review reports from physicians who have provided the procedures to “assess the quality of the care provided.” The Collège des médecins is also to receive such reports from physicians and, apparently, to establish or at least recognize “clinical standards” relative to the procedures.

In addition to the MAD protocol, ARELC permits a substitute decision-maker to order that an incompetent patient be starved and dehydrated to death.  This provides an alternative form of euthanasia subject to none of the restrictions or conditions imposed by MAD guidelines: hence the term used here – “Euthanasia Below the Radar” (EBTR).  Since death by starvation and dehydration would be a painful process, it is likely that, in such circumstances, continous palliative sedation (CPS) would be used to anesthetize the patient. This may lead to the under-reporting of the actual number of euthanasia cases and further confusion about continuous palliative sedation.

Canadian criminal law is not affected by ARELCA physician who does what ARELC requires in the MAD protocol will have provided excellent evidence that the killing was intentional, planned and deliberate. Conforming to the Act Respecting End-of-Life Care would seem to increase the likelihood that a physician – and anyone counselling, aiding, abetting his act – could be charged and convicted for first degree murder, for which the punishment is life imprisonment without parole for 25 years. [Full Text]

Redefining the Practice of Medicine- Euthanasia in Quebec, Part 6: Participation in Killing

Abstract

Physicians at a MeetingIt appears that, even where euthanasia or assisted suicide is legal, the majority of physicians do not actually provide the services.  However, by establishing a purported legal “right” to euthanasia, ARELC generates a demand that physicians kill their patients, despite the high probability that a majority of physicians will not do so.

Often for purely pragmatic reasons, euthanasia supporters do not usually insist that an unwilling physician should be compelled to personally kill a patient.  Thus, the difficulty created by the law can be addressed by administrative measures that connect patients looking for euthanasia with the minority of physicians willing to provide it.  Nonetheless, physicians who object to euthanasia for reasons of conscience will likely be expected to facilitate access to the procedure by helping the patient find a colleague willing to provide it.

However, objecting physicians not only refuse to kill patients, but also often refuse to do anything that they believe makes them morally responsible for the killing.  This includes actions that indirectly support or facilitate it.  Hence, it is likely that most of the attacks on freedom of conscience resulting from ARELC will be preciptated, not by a refusal to kill directly, but by this kind of refusal to participate indirectly in killing.

The Criminal Code demonstrates that a physician who refuses to facilitate the killing of a patient because he does not want to be a culpable participant in killing is acting well within well-established moral and legal norms reflected in our criminal law.  Further, the polices of professional medical organizations that forbid physician participation in capital punishment, torture, and female genital cutting indicate that it is not unreasonable for objecting physicians to refuse to facilitate euthanasia even indirectly.

On the contrary: refusing to participate, even indirectly, in conduct believed to involve serious ethical violations or wrongdoing is not aberrant behaviour.  It is the response expected of physicians by professional bodies and regulators in order to avoid physician complicity in such procedures. [Full Text]