For immediate release
Protection of Conscience Project
The Protection of Conscience Project has been granted joint intervener status in a constitutional challenge to policies of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.
The Project is intervening jointly with the Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) and Faith and Freedom Alliance (FFA) in a lawsuit against the College launched by Ontario physicians and national physician organizations.
The joint intervention will defend freedom of conscience in the face of demands by the Ontario College of Physicians that physicians who refuse to kill patients or help them kill themselves must send them to a colleague willing do so.
“Unlike the CCRL and the FFA, the Project does not take a position on the acceptability of euthanasia or assisted suicide,” said Sean Murphy, Project Administrator.
“However, all three groups agree that those who object to the practices for moral, ethical or religious reasons should not be forced to provide or collaborate in them.”
The intervention will attempt to assist the court in defining a principled approach to the nature and scope of freedom of conscience.
Federal government policy a factor
The deliberate decision of the federal government to support coerced participation in homicide and suicide contributed to the Project’s decision to intervene.
“The federal government knew full well that the Ontario College was threatening to punish physicians who refuse to be parties to euthanasia and assisted suicide when it introduced Bill C-14 to set the groundrules for the procedures,” said Murphy.
“It could have prevented coercion by exercising its jurisdiction in criminal law. It could have made it a crime to force someone to be a party to homicide or suicide. It was repeatedly asked to do so. It steadfastly refused.”
Instead, Murphy said, “the Government of Canada chose to enable coercion, and to defend its support for coercion as ‘cooperative federalism.’”1
In contrast, the Project insists upon a foundational principle of democratic civility: that no one and no state institution may compel unwilling citizens to be parties to killing other people. Neither the state nor its agents nor others in positions of power and influence can legitimately order unwilling citizens to become parties to homicide and suicide, and punish them if they refuse.
The case is currently set for a hearing in mid-June.
Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project
- Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould, House of Commons Debates, Vol. 148, No. 055, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 13 May, 2016, p. 3312 (10:55)
The Catholic Register
It’s not surprising patients fall in love with Dr. Ramona Coelho. Not just because she’s a young, pretty doctor who smiles easily, laughs frequently and focuses her attention completely on whoever is talking to her.
Her patients in London, Ont., know that she’s a doctor who is in it for something more than the status, money or security attached to most medical practices.
“I love my work,” Coelho confesses. “I love being a doctor. I love helping people and being with them — trying to find solutions for them.”
Her practice is heavily slanted to marginalized patients. Her waiting room is full of refugees, ex-cons, the poor. Many of her patients are on permanent disability.
All that is at risk as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario mounts an ever more prickly defense of its “Professional Obligations and Human Rights Policy.” The policy is currently before the courts. It would force Ontario doctors to refer for abortions and for assisted suicide. . . [Full text]
Waterloo Region Record
Physicians are supposed to save lives, not hasten death.
So it’s not surprising that some doctors are having problems seeing how they fit into Canada’s new law that legalizes physician-assisted suicide for some patients.
It turns out that conscientious objectors like Sandra Brickell, a physician who works in Kitchener hospitals, are not protected.
“When somebody wants to end their life, it goes against what we’ve been trained to do,” she said at a meeting Friday with several other doctors, Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht and Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris. . . [Full Text]
The Catholic Register
TORONTO – Dr. Luigi Castagna doesn’t think of practicing medicine as a protest movement. But a stalemate over conscience rights for doctors who object to physician-assisted dying may change that.
“We may have to resort to civil disobedience,” Castagna told The Catholic Register.
Castagna is a member and former president of the St. Joseph Moscati Toronto Catholic Doctors’ Guild. He doesn’t think helping a patient commit suicide is good medicine and he doesn’t think he should refer suicidal patients to doctors who believe it their duty to accommodate requests for death.
“You do, on occasion, encounter suicidal patients,” said Castagna. “That’s how we saw them before the (Supreme Court) decision. They were suicidal. It’s a psychological condition and you find out the reason. You do what you do with any patient. You do a history, a physical examination. You establish a diagnosis and you treat them. Successful treatment means that they now wish to live again.”
Given the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario policy that forces doctors to provide an “effective referral” for any recognized, legal medical procedure or treatment, even in those cases where the doctor objects on moral or religious grounds, there is great fear among members of the Doctors’ Guild they will be forced to refer for assisted suicide. . . [Full text]
This spring, a patient told Dr. Ramona Coelho she was thinking about physician-assisted death.
Coelho gently probed to find out what was at the heart of the woman’s fear, anxiety and depression. The patient felt her life was diminished and no longer meaningful. Coelho says she steered the patient away from assisted death to finding ways to make every day seem worthwhile.
“My patients’ death wishes go away when their issues are dealt with,” says Coelho, who has practised medicine since 2007 and did palliative-care work in Montreal before moving to London, Ont., in 2012. She believes time, careful listening, affection and respect are key to a good relationship with patients. . . [Full text]
Authorities should bar doctors from refusing to provide such services as abortion and assisted death on moral grounds, and screen out potential medical students who might impose their values on patients, leading Canadian and British bioethicists argue in a provocative new commentary.
The paper by professors at Queen’s and Oxford universities, who are also editors of two major bioethics journals, throws rocket fuel onto a debate already inflamed by the new law allowing assisted death.
They argue that physicians have no right to opt out of lawful medical services — from abortion to prescribing contraceptives — that are requested by a patient and in the person’s interest.
Those who let conscientious objection affect patient care are clearly unprofessional, say Udo Schuklenk and Julian Savulescu.
“Doctors must put patients’ interests ahead of their own integrity,” they write in the journal Bioethics. . . [Full text]
Globe and Mail
Groups representing more than 4,700 Christian doctors across the country have launched a court challenge to Ontario regulations that require them to refer patients to physicians willing to provide an assisted death, arguing the referrals are morally equivalent to participating in the procedure.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, however, takes issue with the faith groups’ position. “An effective referral does not foreshadow or guarantee an outcome,” college spokeswoman Tracey Sobers said in an e-mail.
Ewan Goligher, a doctor who works in the intensive care unit at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said he considers himself a conscientious objector to doctor-assisted dying and supports the court challenge. “I think the patient is of greater value than their preference, and I cannot lift my hand to destroy that which is of fundamental value,” he said in an interview. . . [Full Text]
For any ethical medical service, what physician would set out to make an “ineffective referral”?
Dr. Will Johnston, M.D.
“Effective referral” – what a bland phrase. Yet the Nova Scotia the Ontario Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons have adopted this euphemism to mean “removing your discretion as to whether to send a suicidal patient to a doctor who would have no compunctions about killing them if some basic criteria are present.”
For any ethical medical service, what physician would set out to make an “ineffective referral”? An imaginary referral? A recreational referral? On the other hand, what kind of physician would force a colleague to do something they believed to be wrong?
No, “effective referral” is, in our current Troubles, the code phrase for “compulsory referral.”
“Effective referral” is a red flag, useful for identifying those who find it inconvenient that Section 2 of the Charter talks about freedom of conscience and religion.
“Effective referral” is a flashing blue light duct-taped to the heads of College officials and academics who feel competent to remake the ethics of medicine in their own image.
Pressured to violate your conscience rights?
Not sure what to do?
CALL US TOLL FREE – 1-855-239-0622
Medical professionals who hold to traditional Hippocratic medical ethics are facing difficult times. Some of our members have been attacked in the media for their beliefs, students and residents face pressure to perform acts contrary to their religious beliefs or morals, and it was necessary for Canadian Physicians for Life to join a legal challenge against a regulatory college because its policies require physicians to violate their consciences.
For these reasons, we are providing a crisis line that our members can call in times of difficulty, when their personal or professional integrity is under attack for any reason. Whether you are a student being challenged by an attending physician, or a physician being written about in the press, Canadian Physicians for Life is just a phone call away.
What is the Crisis Line? By calling our toll-free number at 1-855-239-0622, members will have the opportunity to speak for an hour with a lawyer. Depending on the circumstances, members will also have access to a network of pro-life physicians and professionals who can offer advice on media strategies, dealing with institutional politics, handling difficult ethical circumstances and crisis communications.
There is no cost to use the Crisis Line. For more information, call or visit www.cp4l.ca/crisis.
Dr. Will Johnston is President of Canadian Physicians for Life. Canadian Physicians for Life seeks to promote public awareness of and professional adherence to the time-honoured Hippocratic medical tradition, which affirms the inviolability of every human life. Founded in 1975, we are a non-profit, charitable organization of Canadian physicians dedicated to the respect and ethical treatment of every human being, regardless of age or infirmity. We are pro-life physicians, retired physicians, medical residents, and students dedicated to building a culture of care, compassion, and life. P.O. Box 65136, RPO Merivale, Nepean, Ontario K2G 5Y3 Ph. 613-728-LIFE(5433) TF 1-855-239-0622 F 613-319-0837
Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience
TORONTO, ONT. (June 20, 2016) – The Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience, representing more than 5,000 physicians and 100 healthcare facilities across Canada, is heartened that federal legislation for assisted suicide specifically states that no one should be compelled to participate in euthanasia.
However, the coalition is deeply troubled that this directive in Bill C-14 is already being ignored and that doctors who oppose assisted suicide over conscience concerns will be required to help take the lives of patients — at least in Ontario.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CSPO) demands that doctors who conscientiously object to assisted suicide refer patients seeking to end their lives to other physicians who will provide the procedure.
No other foreign jurisdiction that has legalized assisted suicide requires doctors to perform or refer for this procedure. Other provinces have already implemented guidelines to protect doctors who object to providing or referring for assisted suicide.
“The current approach of the CPSO demands that doctors set aside their morals and go against their conscience to directly refer for assisted suicide,” said Larry Worthen, Coalition member and Executive Director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada. “In our view, effective referral and participating in assisted suicide are morally and ethically the same thing.”
To ensure that conscience rights are respected for Ontario doctors, three physician groups in the Coalition are seeking an expedited judicial review asking the court to determine whether the approach by the CPSO is unconstitutional.
Members of the Coalition fully support the right people clearly have to refuse or discontinue the use of life-sustaining treatment and to allow death to occur. However, they also hold strong moral convictions that it is never justified for a physician to help take a patient’s life, under any circumstances.
“By requiring effective referral, the CPSO is forcing people of conscience and faith to act against their moral convictions. This threatens the very core of why they became physicians, which is to help to heal people. This is discrimination. It is unnecessary,” Worthen said.
The Coalition is calling on the College to make accommodations that would allow people who have conscientious objection to assisted suicide to continue to practice medicine.
Protecting conscience rights of health practitioners would require only minor accommodations, such as allowing patients direct access to an assessment or allowing complete transfer of care to another physician.
“There are ways to respect patients’ wishes while protecting conscience rights,” Worthen said. “Not to do so is discrimination against people for their morals and convictions, which are protected in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
A strong majority of Canadians are on side with the coalition’s beliefs on conscience protection. A recent Nanos Research poll found that 75% of Canadians agreed that doctors “should be able to opt out of offering assisted dying,” compared with 21% who disagreed.
The coalition continues to urge Canadians with concerns about assisted suicide legislation to visit CanadiansforConscience.ca where they can communicate directly with their elected members of provincial or federal parliament.
The coalition represents several like-minded organizations committed to protecting conscience rights for health practitioners and institutions. Members of the coalition include the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies, the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, Canadian Physicians for Life, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Archdiocese of Vancouver, and the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada.
About The Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience:
The Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience represents a group of like-minded organizations, including representing more than 110 healthcare facilities (with almost 18,000 care beds and 60,000 staff) and more than 5,000 physicians across Canada, that are committed to protecting conscience rights for faith-based health practitioners and facilities. We were brought together by a common mission to respect the sanctity of human life, to protect the vulnerable and to promote the ability of individuals and institutions to provide health care without having to compromise their moral convictions.