Draft policy attacks character, competence of physicians
Protection of Conscience Project
For the third time this year, the Protection of Conscience Project has criticized a draft policy proposed by officials of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan who want to control the exercise of freedom of conscience and religion by physicians. The draft policy, Conscientious Objection, was approved in principle by the College Council on 19 June and released for a public consultation that ended on 7 August.
Citing Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Project states that “the limits proposed in Conscientious Objection are neither reasonable nor demonstrably justified” because the College had no evidence that conscientious objection by Saskatchewan physicians has ever deprived anyone of access medical services or adversely affected anyone’s health.
The Project submission calls Conscientious Objection unacceptable “because it attacks the character and competence of objecting physicians, and it nullifies their freedom of conscience by compelling them to arrange for patients to obtain services to which they object.”
This has become of particular concern because physician assisted suicide and physician administered euthanasia will be legal in Canada in February of next year. The draft policy states that it does not apply to those services, but the Project submission rejects that disclaimer, calling it “ill-advised and misleading.”
Among other things, the Project points out that, even after the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the legalization of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, the College’s Associate Registrar “defended the proposition that physicians should be disciplined or fired if they refuse to at least help to find someone willing to kill patients or help them commit suicide.”
The disclaimer was added only after it became clear that the policy faced overwhelming opposition, either as a tactic to secure the approval of the policy, or because some of its supporters began to realize the policy’s implications.
The submission warns the College that a policy on conscientious objection should be flexible enough to apply to requests for assisted suicide and euthanasia.
” If Council is uncertain how this can be done, it should postpone policy development concerning Conscientious Objection until after the Carter decision comes into force in 2016.”
The Project also strongly criticizes the policy because it suggests that physicians who refuse to do what they believe to be wrong cannot be trusted.
“Solely on the basis of their beliefs,” the submission notes, “it implies that they are unacceptably biased and effectively prohibits objecting physicians from communicating with their patients about morally contested procedures.”
Instead, the policy demands that they refer their patients to someone who can provide “full and balanced health information,” apparently assuming that physicians who have moral viewpoints are incapable of properly communicating with patients.
“But all physicians have moral viewpoints,” the Project reminds the College. “Conscientious Objection simply exchanges one kind of ‘bias’ for another.”
The Project submission includes an alternative policy that protects physician freedom of conscience and religion but does not obstruct patient access to services, including euthanasia and assisted suicide. The alternative draws on the CPSS draft policy, the Canadian Medical Association Code of Ethics, and a joint statement by the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Healthcare Association, Canadian Nurses’ Association, and Catholic Health Association of Canada.
The proposed CPSS policy has also been criticized by the Christian Medical and Dental Societies, the Federation of Catholic Physicians Societies of Canada and Canadian Physicians for Life. Their joint submission states that Conscientious Objection “does not adequately deal with physicians’ human rights” and “does not accurately reflect the law.”