For immediate release
Protection of Conscience Project
Three judges of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice Divisional Court have unanimously ruled that, notwithstanding religious convictions to the contrary, Ontario physicians can be forced to help patients access any and all services and procedures, including euthanasia and assisted suicide.
“In the end,” observed Project Administrator Sean Murphy, “the ruling effectively gives the state the power to compel citizens to be parties to homicide and suicide, even if they believe it is wrong to kill people or help them kill themselves.”
The Protection of Conscience Project jointly intervened in the case with the Catholic Civil Rights League and Faith and Freedom Alliance on the issue of freedom of conscience. The court acknowledged the submission, but explicitly limited its ruling to the exercise of freedom of religion. It did not address freedom of conscience.
The court approved the reasoning of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the state medical regulator. The College argued that “physicians must be prepared to take positive steps to facilitate patient access” to euthanasia and assisted suicide, and that there is “no qualitative difference” between euthanasia and “other health services.”
With respect to options of objecting physicians, the court observed that they are free to change their field of practice in order to avoid moral conflicts. The judges added that those who fail to do so are to blame for any psychological distress they might experience if compelled to violate their convictions. It appears that they were unconcerned that this might further reduce the number of family and palliative care physicians, noting that there was “no evidence” that coercive policies would adversely affect physicians “in any meaningful numbers.”
Dr. Shimon Glick, advisor to the Project and Professor Emeritus of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, described the ruling as “sad.” Commenting on the decision, Project Advisor Professor Roger Trigg of Oxford said, “once the perceived interests of the State override the moral conscience of individuals – and indeed of professionals- particularly in matters of life and death, then we are treading a slippery slope to totalitarianism.”
“Even the first steps- that may not seem important to some,” he warned, “are taking us in that direction.”
Professor Trigg’s warning was echoed by Professor Abdulaziz Sachedina, a leading Islamic scholar and philosopher who also serves on the Project Advisory Board. Professor Sachedina asked, “Are we going to submit to “totalitarian ethics” reflected in such court decisions, making suicide a tempting option without any regard to conscientious objection?”
The decision concluded legal proceedings launched jointly by five Ontario physicians, the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, Canadian Physicians for Life, and the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies. They are considering the possibility of appeal.
Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project
The Protection of Conscience Project is a non-profit, non-denominational initiative that advocates for freedom of conscience in health care. The Project does not take a position on the morality or acceptability of morally contested procedures. Since 1999, the Project has been supporting health care workers who want to provide the best care for their patients without violating their own personal and professional integrity.