Doctors, advocacy groups address proposed law protecting those who object to assisted dying

CBC News

Holly Caruk

Dr. Frank Ewert wants protection from having to help a patient die — but Dying with Dignity Canada doesn’t want that to happen at the cost of patients receiving full access to end-of-life options.

“When I started back a number of years ago and vowed to follow the Hippocratic oath, I meant it. It was very profound to me, it resonated with my core beliefs, that I would always respect life, that I would do nothing to harm a patient,” Ewert told a legislative committee on Monday evening. . . [Full text]


Critics call bill aimed to protect health workers unwilling to offer assisted death ‘one-sided’

CBC: The Current

Interviewer/host: Piya Chattopadhyay


VOICE 1: Bill 34 is being introduced by the Manitoba government to protect conscience rights for health care professionals, so that health care providers would not be required to participate in assisted suicide.

VOICE 2: While I cannot participate in assisted suicide for a couple of reasons. The first is I made a vow as a medical student 40 years ago that I wouldn’t kill patients, okay? And I’m not willing to cross that line.

PC: It has been less than 18 months now since medically assisted dying became legal in Canada. And health care workers are still adapting to that paradigm change. We just heard part of a video produced by the Coalition for Health Care and Conscience. It’s a national umbrella organization of religious groups, and as you heard it is lobbying for Bill 34 a proposed piece of legislation in Manitoba that was drafted to help health care workers with conscientious objections to helping end patients’ lives. Here’s Manitoba’s health minister Kelvin Goertzen. . . [Full episode transcript]



Canada’s assisted suicide law spurs a ‘campaign for conscience’

Isabella Buenaobra

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — A significant health care-related federal legislation was enacted by the Canadian Parliament on June 17, 2016: The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide law creates a regulatory framework for medical assistance in dying in Canada.

With the legislation, Canada has joined The Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Luxembourg. which have enacted rules on doctor-assisted suicide. . .

Bill 34

In response to the passage of the (MAiD) Act, the Coalition for HealthCare and Conscience, a Canadian Christian-based organization, was organized to support the “Call for Conscience” Campaign. The campaign supports Bill 34—the Medical Assistance in Dying (Protection for Health Professionals & Others) Act, currently being considered by the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. . . [Full text]


Sudbury docs want ‘conscience rights’ in assisted dying

Sudbury Star

Ben Leeson

A majority of physicians at Health Sciences North believe they should have a choice whether to take part in assisted suicide, according to a vote at their recent quarterly medical staff meeting.

Physicians passed a motion, proposed by HSN medical staff vice-president Dr. Killian deBlacam, that read “The medical staff of HSN support conscience rights for physicians who refuse effective referrals for euthanasia.”

The motion was seconded by Dr. Roger Sandre and passed by a “large majority” according to a press release issued by deBlacam last week. . . [Full text]


Conservative MPP Yurek keeps up fight for conscience rights with bill

The Catholic Register

Evan Boudreau

The Ontario Liberals’ rejection of amendments to its assisted suicide legislation leaves MPP Jeff Yurek “very disappointed” but not defeated as the Conservative prepares to introduce a private member’s bill to protect conscience rights for doctors and health care workers.

On May 18, the Conservative’s bill will be brought forward to the legislature for an evaluation of the pros and cons. While Yurek expects scrutiny similar to that which faced Bill 84 amendments, he’s still hopeful to garner support from the majority of his political peers.

But that will require the votes of Liberal MPPs, who Yurek hopes will be influenced by their conscience and not the will of party leaders. . . [Full text]


No conscience rights protection for health care providers

The Sachem
Reproduced with permission

Sam Oosterhoff

In March, I attended hearings for Bill 84, the Medical Assistance in Dying legislation put forward by the provincial Liberals.

I listened to doctors, nurses, ethicists, religious leaders and human rights advocates who had travelled from across Ontario to bring forward their concerns about this law. After the federal Liberal government legalized physician assisted suicide last year, they wanted to ensure there was adequate consultation in the provincial implementation.

Faced with the situation of legal physician assisted suicide, health professionals need clear and explicit conscience protection so that they will not be forced to take part and contradict their deeply held personal convictions.

Conscience rights are fundamental human rights which are clearly protected in our country under Section 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yet Bill 84 offers no protection for the conscience rights of health professionals.
Since Bill 84 was introduced last December, my office has been flooded with phone calls, emails, and visits from constituents who are concerned with the lack of conscience protections in the bill.

Some doctors say that they would have to leave the practice of medicine in Ontario if they were forced to act against their conscience. Physicians should not be punished for conducting their work according to their most deeply-held ethical or religious convictions.

The Ontario PC Party put forward two amendments that would have provided robust conscience protection. We believe health care professionals should not be forced to refer for, perform or assist in physician assisted suicide against their will and should not be discriminated against for taking this stand. Unfortunately both amendments were rejected by the Liberal majority on the committee.

Larry Worthen of the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience told the committee: “We want to reassure you that there is another way. No foreign jurisdiction that has legalized assisted suicide has required doctors or nurses to participate against their will, and there’s no indication that this has caused any crisis in access. Other provinces — specifically Alberta — have come up with innovative options.” Ontario can and should do the same.

My colleague Jeff Yurek, the health critic for the PC Caucus, will be introducing a Private Member’s Bill in May as another way to fight for conscience protection in Ontario.  I will continue to fight for conscience rights, and I encourage you to contact my office to share your thoughts and perspective on this very sensitive and important issue.

Sam Oosterhoff is the MPP for Niagara West-Glanbrook

Physicians’ Rights of Conscience at Stake with Expansion of Physician-Assisted Suicide

CNS News

Reproduced with permission

Lynn Wardle

As more nations and states legalize medical assistance in dying (herein “MAID”), more cases are being reported of coercive and abusive pressures being used to force doctors who object to performing, assisting or making referrals for physician-assisted suicide to engage in complicit behavior.

In 2016 it was reported that euthanasia or assisted suicide was legal in only eight nations (Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands,  and Switzerland) and in only six American states (California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington – plus also in the District of Columbia). That amounts to less than four percent of the sovereign nations in the world, and just twelve percent of American states.

Thus, the total number of jurisdictions that allow MAID is actually very small. The acceptance of MAID globally and in the U.S. has been rather under-whelming – especially since efforts to legalize such practices have been urged for many decades.

The miniscule portion of jurisdictions that have legalized MAID is all the more striking when contrasted with the decades of relentless efforts to legalize such practices. Yet the profound moral dilemmas that MAID creates are of great significance.

Yet the experience of nations where MAID is legal is very troubling.  Some advocates of MAID cannot abide having any doctors who will not perform or support such killings, so they pressure those who disagree with them to comply and conform. They seem to view the mere existence of differing views in their medical community to be a threat that must be eliminated.

Because of such dynamics, there really is no “middle ground” on the issue of legalizing MAID.  Either a health care provider supports the “progressive” policy of MAID, or he/she is viewed and treated as a real or potential threat – to be marginalized, opposed, and excluded from professional influence.

Sadly, such “progressive” hostility to conscientious objection harms communities and the individual and family members of communities.  It deprives them of a safety-net that keeps the medical system and the medical establishment honest.

“Free conscientious objection to MAID” [Medical Assistance in Dying], wrote Assistant Professor Christine Cserti-Gazdewich, “reveals flaws and coaxes improvements.  This constructive dialogue is … the vitality of a system striving for excellence.”  Without such protections as for rights of conscience she predicted “quantitative and qualitative corrosion of our health care workforce.”

Such checks and balances are especially important now, as medical decisions and medical professionals are playing an increasing – and increasingly important – role in the lives of more and more citizens.  Loss of the protection of conscientious objection marginalizes and endangers the significant (if small) community of medical professionals who have and try to live by the values of their religious faiths.

For example, Sean Murphy of Canada reports that: “Attacks on physician freedom of conscience in the Canadian province of Ontario have become acute since the legalization of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide in 2016. Doctors have been threatened with discipline or dismissal if they refuse to comply.”

For some persons of faith, the act of referring a patient to a professional who will aid them to commit suicide or voluntary self-euthanasia is an act of complicity in a severe moral evil.  While others may not agree with those moral principles, all of us can and should respect those who hold those views and should protect their right to try to live by them.

MAID is a relative recent phenomenon in North America.  In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously in Carter v. Canada that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms required the government to allow MAID for “a competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life; and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”

In June 2016 Canada enacted a law (Bill C-14, the Medicial Assistance in Dying Act) that allowed MAID for adults suffering from terminal physical illnesses whose natural death is “reasonable foreseeable.” Ironically, the most vigorous opposition to the Canadian MAID legislation was not from conservatives opposed to legalizing assisted suicide or euthanasia but from liberals who wanted MAID to be available to minors and to persons suffering from non-physical illnesses and to persons whose death was not imminent.

Canada has had less than a year’s experience with MAID.  Yet, already some Canadian doctors have left the profession to avoid being forced to refer persons for euthanasia.

Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience has been formed to support physicians who oppose being forced to perform or refer patients to doctors who perform medical assistance in dying (assisted suicide).  Likewise, Canadian Physicians for Life is another organization of medical professionals to oppose mandatory MAID.

Such organizations are not just commendable but essential.  If the experience of medical abuses in Nazi Germany showed nothing else, they showed that institutional pressures to facilitate killing the unwanted and the vulnerable eventually corrupt professional organizations that were formed to protect the weak and to provide healing services to the ill and injured.  So the creation of institutions willing to blow the whistle about such abuses is critical to protect rights of conscience.

The failure of the Canadian government to create serious institutional checks and protections and the lack of agencies and officials clearly charged to protect and given adequate resources to prevent and punish abuses are revealing. Merely mouthing platitudes about respect for rights of conscience without real institutional means and without systemic commitment to do so virtually guarantees neglect of the rights of the minority who oppose killing within the profession and nation.

Lynn D. Wardle is the Bruce C. Hafen Professor of Law at Brigham Young University.  He is author or editor of numerous books and law review articles mostly about family, biomedical ethics and conflict of laws policy issues. His publications present only his personal (not institutional) views.

Accessed 2017-09-02


Scarborough health practitioners stand against assisted suicide

Doctors seek protection from policy requiring them to make referral

Scarborough Mirror

Dominik Kurek

A number of local healthcare practitioners fear their right to choose whether or not they participate in providing assisted suicide to patients is being taken away from them.

Assisted suicide became legal in Canada in June 2016.

The Canadian law to allow medical assistance in dying (MAID) followed a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that struck down the law forbidding physician assisted dying, saying the old law violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The federal law, however, makes no indication that healthcare professionals would have to participate in MAID.

But, a College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario policy requires practitioners who conscientiously object to MAID to provide an effective referral to a non-objecting, available and accessible physician, nurse practitioner or agency. . . [Full text]


Ontario Liberals give doctors no choice but to refer patients for assisted death

Lifesite News

Lianne Laurence

TORONTO, April 13, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — A Liberal-dominated committee has refused to add conscience rights protection to Ontario’s bill regulating euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The finance and economic affairs committee voted down Progressive Conservative health critic Jeff Yurek’s proposed conscience rights amendments to Bill 84 on Tuesday.

The Liberal move leaves conscientiously objecting doctors with no protection against a College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s policy forcing them to give patients requesting euthanasia an “effective referral” — that is, to a willing and accessible colleague for the purposes of accomplishing the act. . . [Full text]


Conscience rights protection amendments voted down

Catholic Register

Michael Swan

The majority Liberal government at Queen’s Park has crushed an opposition attempt to incorporate conscience protections for doctors in its legislation on assisted suicide.

The government majority on the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs voted down two versions of a Progressive Conservative amendment to Bill-84 that would have removed the threat of license suspensions and other disciplinary actions against doctors who refuse to make an “effective referral” for medical assistance in dying (MAID).

New Democratic Party representatives on the committee abstained on the issue. . . [Full text]