Torture: sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, say bioethicists

Michael Cook*

Torture is an issue on which the public might expect bioethicists to be moral absolutists. Never again! Never ever! It was somewhat surprising, then, to read in the New York Times that one of the world’s leading animal rights theorists, Oxford’s Jeff McMahan, support torture. . . .   Full Text 

Can physicians conceive of performing euthanasia in case of psychiatric disease, dementia or being tired of living?

J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2014-102150

Eva Elizabeth Bolt, Marianne C Snijdewind, Dick L Willems, Agnes van der Heide, Bregje D Onwuteaka-Philipsen

Abstract

Background Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (EAS) in patients with psychiatric disease, dementia or patients who are tired of living (without severe morbidity) is highly controversial. Although such cases can fall under the Dutch Euthanasia Act, Dutch physicians seem reluctant to perform EAS, and it is not clear whether or not physicians reject the possibility of EAS in these cases.

Aim To determine whether physicians can conceive of granting requests for EAS in patients with cancer, another physical disease, psychiatric disease, dementia or patients who are tired of living, and to evaluate whether physician characteristics are associated with conceivability. A cross-sectional study (survey) was conducted among 2269 Dutch general practitioners, elderly care physicians and clinical specialists.

Results The response rate was 64% (n=1456). Most physicians found it conceivable that they would grant a request for EAS in a patient with cancer or another physical disease (85% and 82%). Less than half of the physicians found this conceivable in patients with psychiatric disease (34%), early-stage dementia (40%), advanced dementia (29–33%) or tired of living (27%). General practitioners were most likely to find it conceivable that they would perform EAS.

Conclusions This study shows that a minority of Dutch physicians find it conceivable that they would grant a request for EAS from a patient with psychiatric disease, dementia or a patient who is tired of living. For physicians who find EAS inconceivable in these cases, legal arguments and personal moral objections both probably play a role.

[Full text]

Saskatchewan physicians to be forced to participate in killing their patients

For Immediate Release

Maurice Vellacott, MP Saskatoon-Wanuskewin

OTTAWA – “The assault on freedom of conscience that is spreading across our country ought to be of grave concern to every freedom-loving Canadian ,” MP Maurice Vellacott said upon learning of yet another province (this time his own) that plans to force physicians to participate in morally objectionable procedures, including those that kill. “No health care worker should be forced against their will to take part in the killing of another human being. It would be a grotesque violation of their human dignity.”

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (CPSS) has adopted in principle a policy[i]  which it basically “cut and paste” from the Conscience Research Group’s (CRG’s) Model Policy on Conscientious Objection in Medicine.[ii]

Mr. Vellcott asked a series of questions that paint a disturbing picture of the process, or lack thereof, that went into CPSS’s adoption of this objectionable policy:

“Was the CPSS aware that the drafters of the Model Policy, notably Professor Jocelyn Downie of Dalhousie University, are abortion and euthanasia activists?

Did the CPSS solicit input from anyone other than Professor Downie and her team at the CRG[iii] before adopting this policy?

Did the Saskatchewan College let on to anyone else that it was even considering this issue?

Is the CPSS aware that this policy was rejected by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA)?”

Mr. Vellacott explained: “Professor Downie and co-author Sanda Rodgers, in a 2006 guest editorial in the CMA Journal, ignited a firestorm of controversy when they falsely claimed that CMA policy requires physicians to make abortion referrals regardless of their conscientious/religious beliefs. As Sean Murphy, Administrator of the Protection of Conscience Project, points out in his recent news release, that claim was repudiated by the CMA and vehemently rejected by physicians. And partly as a result of that negative response, Professor Downie turned her attention to the regulatory Colleges to try to convince them to impose mandatory referral.”[iv]

Earlier this month, Mr. Vellacott spoke out against a similar draft policy of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO). At that time, he expressed concerns that if the Supreme Court of Canada strikes down Canada’s current ban on euthanasia or assisted suicide, then CPSO’s policy would mean Ontario’s physicians would have a ‘duty to refer’ patients for these life-ending procedures. He stressed that no other jurisdiction that currently allows euthanasia or assisted suicide imposes such an obligation. [v]

“While the CPSO policy is not identical to the CPSS/CRG Model Policy, in principle it is the same—a coercive attempt to involve physicians in the killing of some of the most vulnerable members of our human family,” Mr. Vellacott said. “The sheer fact that these Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons feel that a coercive policy of referral for these controversial procedures is necessary, is itself testament to the fact that there is something inherently problematic about these procedures in the first place. If they were procedures just like any other medical procedure, there’d be no need to coerce physicians into sacrificing a fundamental part of who they are—their very consciences—in order to provide them.”

“No good can come from forcing a doctor to practice medicine in a way they find morally reprehensible. Killing the consciences of our medical doctors will cause inestimable harm to the people of Canada and society as a whole.”

“One cannot help but wonder, what is the real motivation of those pushing us down this dangerous path?  And will we have the courage and wisdom and foresight to stop it?”

For information on providing input to CPSS on its draft policy, visit: http://www.cps.sk.ca/CPSS/CouncilAndCommittees/Council_Consultations_and_Surveys.aspx

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 For further information and comment, call (613) 992-1966 or (613) 297-2249; email: maurice.vellacott.a1@parl.gc.ca

[i] The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (CPSS) is currently seeking input on a conscientious objection policy dubbed “Conscientious Refusal,”  which it has adopted in principle. This policy would require physicians who object to providing certain “legally permissible and publicly-funded health services” to “make a timely referral to another health care provider who is willing and able to accept the patient and provide the service.” In cases where the patient’s “health or well-being” would be jeopardized by a delay in finding another physician, the physician would be forced to provide the service even when it “conflicts with physicians’ deeply held and considered moral or religious beliefs.” See: http://www.cps.sk.ca/Documents/Council/2015%201%2019%20Conscientious%20Objection%20policy%20approved%20in%20principle%20by%20Council.pdf

[ii] http://carolynmcleod.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/04_Downie-McLeod-Shaw.pdf

[iii] http://conscience.carolynmcleod.com/meet-the-team/

[iv] “Saskatchewan physicians to be forced to do what they believe to be wrong,” Protection of Conscience Project news release, Jan. 27, 2015

[v] See Jan. 8, 2015 news release  and Backgrounder.

All Saskatchewan doctors must refer for abortions: draft policy

 LifeSiteNews

Steve Weatherbe

Saskatchewan pro-life doctors will soon be forced to act against their consciences and required to refer patients who want treatments such as abortion to other doctors. And if no other doctor is available, doctors could be required to do abortions provided they are technically competent.

So says a draft policy of the Saskatchewan Physicians and Surgeons that the organization’s ruling council approved in principle on January 16.  It will vote again to enshrine the document in the professional code of ethics at its meetings on March 26 and 27, and provides member doctors just until March 6 to give feedback. . . [Full text]

   

Euthanasia is so accepted that doctors must now justify prolonging a life

National Post

Barbara Kay

In 1994, Dutch journalist Gerbert van Loenen’s partner Niek underwent surgery to remove what was thought to be a pea-sized brain tumour. More complicated than predicted, the operation resulted in a brain injury that left Niek permanently disabled, yet still able to enjoy quality of life.

Van Loenen willingly reorganized his life to care for Niek at home. But after four years, his career needs necessitated moving Niek to a wheelchair-accessible unit across the street from a nursing home, where he was content for six more years until the tumour returned, whereupon he died a natural death.

Van Loenen found himself brooding over certain friends’ reactions to their situation. “It would have been better if he had died,” one said at the outset. [Full text]

 

Anti-vaccination group ‘encouraging parents to join fake church’ for religious loophole

 9news.com.au

An anti-vaccination group is reportedly encouraging parents to sign up to a fake church so they can bypass immunisation requirements for childcare.

Under a NSW government’s 2013 law and the Victorian government’s proposed law due to start next year, children who are not fully immunized cannot enroll in childcare.

But parents can get around these laws if they declare a conscientious objection on a Medicare form and have it signed by a GP, who first counsels them about the risks and benefits of immunisation, Fairfax Media reports. . . [Full text]

 

Saskatchewan physicians to be forced to do what they believe to be wrong

Policy wording supplied by abortion and euthanasia activists

Policy would apply to euthanasia, if legalized.

Protection of Conscience Project News Release

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan proposing a draft policy demanding that physicians who object to “legally permissible and publicly-funded health services” must direct patients to colleagues who will provide them.  If another physician is unavailable, the College demands that they provide “legally permissible and publicly-funded” services,  even if doing so “conflicts with physicians’ deeply held and considered moral or religious beliefs.”

Physicians usually refuse to participate in abortion because they believe it is wrong to kill what the criminal law refers to as a child that has not become a human being.1 The proposed policy will require them to find a physician willing to do the killing they won’t do.  Should the Supreme Court of Canada legalize euthanasia, the policy will require objecting physicians who refuse to kill patients to find someone who will.

The seamless fit between referral for abortion and referral for euthanasia is not surprising.  The draft College policy was largely written by abortion and euthanasia activists, notably Professor Jocelyn Downie of Dalhousie University.

In a 2006 guest editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Professor Downie and another law professor claimed that objecting physicians are obliged to refer patients for abortion.2  Their views were vehemently rejected by physicians and repudiated by the Canadian Medical Association.3  Partly as a result of the negative response, Professor Downie and her colleagues in the “Conscience Research Group” decided to convince Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons to impose it.4

Saskatchewan’s draft policy is taken almost verbatim from their “Model Conscientious Objection Policy.”

The Conscience Research Group is  a tax-funded initiative that includes Professors Downie and Daniel Weinstock.5   Both  were members of an “expert panel” that recommended that health care professionals who object to killing patients should be compelled to refer patients to someone who would,6 because (they claimed) it is agreed that they can be compelled to refer for “reproductive health services.”7

Current efforts by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to suppress freedom of conscience in the medical profession may have been influenced by the Conscience Research Group.  However, the College in Saskatchewan is the first to copy and paste its preferred model into a draft policy.

The Project insists that it is incoherent and contrary to sound public policy to include a requirement to do what one believes to be wrong in a professional code of ethics. It is also an affront to the best traditions of liberal democracy, and, ultimately, dangerous.

The College Council has approved the policy in principle, but will accept feedback on it until 6 March, 2015.


Notes:

1.  Criminal Code, Section 238(1). (Accessed 2014-12-02)

2. Rodgers S. Downie J. “Abortion: Ensuring Access.” CMAJ July 4, 2006 vol. 175 no. 1 doi: 10.1503/cmaj.060548 (Accessed 2014-12-02).

3.  Blackmer J. Clarification of the CMA’s position on induced abortion. CMAJ April 24, 2007 vol. 176 no. 9 doi: 10.1503/cmaj.1070035 (Accessed 2014-02-22)

4.   McLeod C, Downie J. “Let Conscience Be Their Guide? Conscientious Refusals in Health Care.” Bioethics ISSN 0269-9702 (print); 1467-8519 (online) doi:10.1111/bioe.12075 Volume 28 Number 1 2014 pp ii–iv

5.   Let their conscience be their guide? Conscientious refusals in reproductive health care: Meet the team.(Accessed 2014-11-21)

6.  Schuklenk U, van Delden J.J.M, Downie J, McLean S, Upshur R, Weinstock D. Report of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on End-of-Life Decision Making (November, 2011) p. 101 (Accessed 2014-02-23)

7.   Schuklenk U, van Delden J.J.M, Downie J, McLean S, Upshur R, Weinstock D. Report of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on End-of-Life Decision Making (November, 2011) p. 62 (Accessed 2014-02-23)

A modest proposal for respecting physicians’ freedom of conscience

National Post

Margaret Somerville

The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons is consulting on whether patients’ right of access to certain procedures, such as abortion, should trump the rights of those physicians who refuse, for reasons of conscience, to provide them. Dr. Marc Gabel, a College official, chairs the working group looking at this issue, which is drafting a new policy on “Professional Obligations and Human Rights.”

Dr. Gabel has been reported as saying that “physicians unwilling to provide or facilitate abortion for reasons of conscience should not be family physicians” and it seems wants the College to approve that stance. Sean Murphy, of the Protection of Conscience Project, argues that “if it does, ethical cleansing of Ontario’s medical profession will begin this year, ridding it of practitioners unwilling to do what they believe to be wrong.”

Freedom of conscience, like the other fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is a fundamental pillar of democracy. So how could breaching this right be, as Dr Gabel claims, “required by professional practice and human rights legislation”? . . . [Full text]

 

Silencing the Voices of the Faithful in Health Care

 Without People of Faith in Medicine, Who Will Defend the Vulnerable?

Denise Hunnell, MD

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 23, 2015 (Zenit.org) – Religious liberty provides for the free exercise of one’s faith in every aspect of life. This freedom is far more extensive than merely having the freedom to attend the worship service of choice.  Truly living one’s faith means that family life, professional life, leisure activities, as well as spiritual practices are guided by the tenets of faith. . . .

Every profession is vulnerable to this religious discrimination, but perhaps none more so than the medical profession. Health care workers are intimately involved with matters of life and death on a daily basis. Catholic teaching, in accord with natural law, professes that all human life has intrinsic dignity from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death and faithful Catholics seek to uphold this dignity in every aspect of their lives, including their professional activities. Catholic health care workers are increasingly challenged by a secular health care system that offers little or no protection for the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly, and has little regard for religious principles.[Full text]

 

Why I support some religious exemptions (though I myself am not religious)

Washington Post

Eugene Volokh

Should the law sometimes exempt religious objectors from generally applicable laws? And, if so, should it be done (1) only on a statute-by-statute basis — where the legislature decides, when it passes or revises a statute, whether there ought to be an exemption from that statute — (2) through a broad exemption law, which calls on courts to decide when to carve out religious exemptions from a statute and when not to, or (3) as a matter of constitutional command, interpreting the Free Exercise Clause as presumptively (but not categorically) mandating religious exemptions?

I’m inclined to conclude that the best solution is a mix of (1) and (2) — legislatures create exemptions when they think of them, but also authorize courts to do the same — but generally without the constitutional model (3). I discuss this in much more detail in my “A Common Law Model for Religious Exemptions” article, but here I just want to focus on part of that: why I think religious exemptions are often a good idea, even though I myself am not religious. . . .[Full text]