What happens when a patient’s right to die and a doctor’s right to refuse collide?

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Jonathan Charlton

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan is set to finalize a policy to guide the province’s doctors on the controversial issue of doctor assisted death.

While the Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the old law forbidding the service, the former Conservative government didn’t introduce new legislation. The new Liberal government, meanwhile, could ask for an extension to the court’s Feb. 6, 2016 deadline.

However, the College doesn’t want doctors in the province to be stranded without any guidance, hence its own policy, which could be finalized at the College’s meeting Friday.

Associate registrar Bryan Salte walked the Saskatoon StarPhoenix through the complex issue. This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. [Full text]

Related:

Project submission re: conscientious objection policy

Project to Saskatchewan regulator: no evidence to support limitation of fundamental freedoms

Draft policy attacks character, competence of physicians

News Release

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.”

Project Submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan

Re: Conscientious Objection

Abstract

Conscientious Objection is 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.

Council has been given no evidence that anyone in Saskatchewan has ever been unable to access medical services or that the health of anyone in Saskatchewan has ever been adversely affected because a physician has declined to provide or refer for a procedure for reasons of conscience. In the absence of such evidence, the limits proposed in Conscientious Objection are neither reasonable nor demonstrably justified.

Conscientious Objection is not justified by the principles included in the policy because there is no necessary connection between the principles and a policy requiring physicians to do what they believe to be wrong. The principles can be applied to force physicians to facilitate morally contested procedures only if they are ideologically interpreted in order to impose one world view at the expense of others. The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously affirmed that such an approach is unacceptable.

It is unrealistic to believe that the approach taken in Conscientious Objection will not be taken with respect to physician administered euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. The disclaimer to the contrary is ill-advised and misleading. A policy on Conscientious Objection should be sufficiently flexible to apply to direct or indirect participation in killing patients or helping them commit suicide. 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.

Alternatively, if the College believes that some kind of guidance should be provided with respect to this contentious issue, the Project offers an alternative that protects physician freedom of conscience and religion but does not obstruct patient access to services, including euthanasia and assisted suicide.


Contents

I.    Introduction

II.    Overview of this submission

III.    Limitation of fundamental freedoms

IV.    “Purpose” and “Principles”

V.    Scope of Conscientious Objection

V.1    The disclaimer

V.2    Dissecting the disclaimer

V.3    Summary

V.4    Recommendations

VI.    Physician obligations

5.1    Taking on new patients (Comment)

5.2    Providing information to patients

5.3    Exercise of freedom of conscience and religion

5.4    Necessary treatments to prevent harm to patients

Appendix “A” – Conscientious Objection– “Purpose” and “Principles”: Comment and critique

A1.    Introduction

A2.    “The fiduciary relationship between a physician and a patient.”

A3.    “Patient autonomy.”

A4.    “A patient’s right to continuity of care.”
“Patients should not be disadvantaged or left without appropriate care due to the personal beliefs of their physicians.”
“Physicians have an obligation not to abandon their patients.”

A5.    “A patient’s right to information about their care.”
“Physicians have an obligation to provide full and balanced health information, referrals and health services to their patients in a non-discriminatory fashion.”

A6.    “Physicians should not intentionally or unintentionally create barriers to patient care.”
“Physicians have an obligation not to interfere with or obstruct a patient’s right to access legally permissible and publicly-funded health services.”

A7.    “The College has a responsibility to impose reasonable limits on a physician’s ability to refuse to provide care where those limits are appropriate.”

A8.    “Medical care should be equitably available to patients whatever the patient’s situation, to the extent that can be achieved.”

A9.    “The College of Physicians and Surgeons has an obligation to serve and protect the public interest.”

A10.    “The Canadian medical profession as a whole has an obligation to ensure that people have access to the provision of legally permissible and publicly-funded health services.”

A11.    “Physicians’ freedom of conscience should be respected.”

A12.    “Physicians’ exercise of freedom of conscience to limit the health services that they provide should not impede, either directly or indirectly, access to legally permissible and publicly-funded health services.”

A13.    “Physicians’ exercise of freedom of conscience to limit the services that they provide to patients should be done in a manner that respects patient dignity, facilitates access to care and protects patient safety.”

A14.    Summary

Appendix “B” – Scope of Conscientious Objection
Purported non-applicability of policy to assisted suicide, euthanasia

B1.    Disclaimer

B2.    Disclaimer inconsistent with opinion of the CMPA

B3.    Disclaimer inconsistent with policy origin, previous statements

B4.    Disclaimer inconsistent with links between abortion and euthanasia

B5.    Principles support coercion of physicians to facilitate euthanasia

B5.3    “The fiduciary relationship between a physician and a patient.”

B5.4    “Patient autonomy.”

B5.5   “A patient’s right to continuity of care.”
“Patients should not be disadvantaged or left without appropriate care due to the personal beliefs of their physicians.”
“Physicians have an obligation not to abandon their patients.”

B5.6    “Physicians should not intentionally or unintentionally create barriers to patient care.”
“Physicians have an obligation not to interfere with or obstruct a patient’s right to access legally permissible and publicly funded health services.”
“Physicians’ exercise of freedom of conscience to limit the health services that they provide should not impede, either directly or indirectly, access to legally permissible and publicly-funded health services.”

B5.7    “Medical care should be equitably available to patients whatever the patient’s situation, to the extent that can be achieved.”

B5.8    “The College has a responsibility to impose reasonable limits on a physician’s ability to refuse to provide care where those limits are appropriate.”

B5.9    “The College of Physicians and Surgeons has an obligation to serve and protect the public interest. The Canadian Medical Profession as a whole has an obligation to ensure that people have access to the provision of legally permissible and publicly-funded health services.”

B6.    Unsatisfactory reasons offered to support the disclaimer

B6.1    Questioning the reasons

B6.2    Answering the questions

Appendix “C” – Conscientious Objection – 5.  Physician Obligations
Comment and Critque

C1.    5. Obligations (Project alternative)

5.1    Taking on new patients

5.2    Providing information to patients

5.3    Exercise of freedom of conscience and religion

5.4    Necessary treatments to prevent harm to patients

C2.    Conscientious Objection and Project alternative compared

Table A. Taking on new patients

Table B.  Providing information to patients

Table C.  Exercise of freedom of conscience and religion

Table D.  Necessary treatments to prevent harm to patients

C3.    Commentary corresponding to the tables in C2

Table A  5.1 Taking on new patients

Table B  5.2 Providing information to patients

Table C  5.3 Exercise of freedom of conscience and religion

Table D  5.4 Necessary treatments to prevent harm to patients.

Sask MDs, doctors’ groups ask for a hearing by College of Physicians and Surgeons

News Release

Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada

SASKATOON, June 17, 2015 /CNW/ – Larry Worthen, Executive Director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada (CMDS), urged the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (CPSS), today, to support freedom of conscience when they meet on Friday, June 19th, to consider a policy on conscientious objection. CMDS and other doctors’ groups are asking for a meeting with the College’s drafting committee to express their concerns.

Said Larry Worthen, “To ask physicians to act against deeply held moral convictions would be a clear infringement on physicians’ rights to the Section 2 fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The College’s Associate Registrar Brian Salte has ties to the Conscience Research Project led by one of Canada’s leading proponents of abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, and Mr. Salte has attended briefings of that group. We ask that the College would give us equal time to present our side of the argument and hear concerns about how this policy will affect patient care in Saskatchewan.”

Previous CPSS policy drafts required that physicians refer patients for procedures even when performing such procedures went against the moral convictions of the physician. Under the drafts, physicians would even be forced to actually perform procedures even though to do so would go against strongly held moral and religious convictions. Physicians who refused to comply would be vulnerable to sanctions up to and including losing their licences.

“No one’s interests are served by effectively disqualifying certain Saskatchewan physicians from the practice of medicine,” said Worthen.

Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant physicians hold grave concerns about the negative effects when they are forced to act against their consciences.

“Going against one’s conscience can cause moral distress which has been shown to affect patient care adversely. We need to have physicians who are free to bring their whole selves to their patients, including their compassion and their ethics,” said Mary Deutscher, member of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon Justice and Peace Commission. “For Catholic physicians, participation in a formal referral makes them an accomplice in the procedure. This position is supported by many evangelical Protestant experts and other groups as well.”

This is also reflected in the positions of CMDS, Canadian Physicians for Life (CPL) and the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies (CFCPS).

“Should the College choose to adopt this policy, it would assume the role of judge and jury deciding who could or could not exercise their constitutionally protected rights,” said Faye Sonier, CPL’s General Legal Counsel. “Physicians who cannot perform certain procedures due to their beliefs would become a class of citizens who fall outside the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

“Physicians who hold conscientious objections do so with profound respect for both the well-being and the autonomy of their patients. Their conscientious objections also stem from a deep commitment to the Hippocratic Oath,” said Dr. Thomas Bouchard, M.D., of the CFCPS. “In debates about conscience rights, the debate is often framed as a competition between the rights of a patient to access services versus the conscience of a physician. But physicians in these circumstances do not care solely about their conscience rights. These physicians also care deeply about the good of their patients.”

Self-referral is already a commonly exercised option among patients, including in respect of abortion services, across most of Saskatchewan. Self-referral allows the doctor to avoid being involved in facilitating the provision of the service, and the patient gets prompt access to the service.

A public opinion survey conducted May 20th-27th by Abingdon Research indicated that when a patient and doctor have different views on best treatment because of the doctor’s moral convictions, 47.5% of the Saskatchewan public felt that a patient could seek further advice or help from a different doctor without a formal referral, compared with 44.1% who felt the doctor should provide a formal referral. More than 53% of Saskatchewan residents felt that “nothing should happen to the doctor” who was unwilling to provide a treatment or a referral for reasons of moral conviction.

“Doctors represented by our groups are willing to discuss all procedures with their patients in a caring and objective way. We simply ask that when the patient makes a decision that the doctor cannot support for moral reasons that the patient access another service provider directly,” added Dr. Sheila Harding, M.D., a Saskatoon haematologist. “I have heard of many cases where doctor and patient agree to disagree and the patient returns to the physician’s practice after the procedure. If anything, the physician-patient relationship was enhanced.”

CMDS (Christian Medical and Dental Society) represents some 1600 physicians and dentists across Canada (cmdscanada.org). The Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies (canadiancatholicphysicians.com) represents groups from across Canada. Canadian Physicians for Life (physiciansforlife.ca is the national association of pro-life physicians and provides resources and educational opportunities to thousands of physicians and medical students each year.

SOURCE Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada

For further information: Larry Worthen at 902-880-2495. Larry is available for interviews in Saskatoon after 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, June 17th, until Noon, Saturday, June 20th.

Conscientious objection policy rasies thorny issues for Sask. doctors

Saskatoon Star Phoenix

Jonathon Charlton

A draft policy under review by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan does not require doctors who refuse to perform an abortion to refer patients to one who will.

Associate registrar Bryan Salte declined to comment on specifics in the draft, noting they could change. The CPSS committee working on the policy was set to review it further Friday, and it will go to the full CPSS council for formal approval in principle June 19. . . [Full text]

.

 

Project Submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan

Re: Conscientious Refusal (as revised)

5 June, 2015

Abstract

Council has been given no evidence that anyone in Saskatchewan has ever been unable to access medical services or that the health of anyone in Saskatchewan has ever been adversely affected because a physician has declined to provide or refer for a procedure for reasons of conscience.

The conclusion that objecting physicians “should not be obligated to provide a referral to a physician who will ultimately potentially provide the service” is entirely satisfactory. It is a tacit admission that such a policy would be an unacceptable assault on freedom of conscience.

Conscientious Refusal as revised attempts to nullify the alleged ‘bias’ of physicians who object to a procedure for reasons of conscience by requiring them to refer patients to a non-objecting colleague. This proposal is not sound, since, if it is to be applied fairly and consistently, the ‘bias’ of physicians who do not object to a procedure should be nullified in the same way. This would simply exchange one kind of alleged ‘bias’ for another, inconvenience patients and provide them with no better care.

The more sensible course is to require all physicians to provide patients with sufficient information to satisfy the requirements of informed medical decision making.  Physicians must advise patients at the earliest reasonable opportunity of services or procedures they decline to recommend or provide for reasons of conscience, advise affected patients that they may seek the services elsewhere, and ensure that they have sufficient information to approach other physicians, heath care workers or community organizations.  They must not promote their own moral or religious beliefs when interacting with a patient.

Physicians unwilling to abide by these requirements must promptly arrange for a patient to be seen by another physician or health care worker who is able to do so.

If the College is determined to enact a policy on conscientious refusal, it should ensure that the policy adopted is sufficiently flexible to accommodate physicians with respect to all procedures or services. Otherwise, Council should reject Conscientious Refusal as revised and postpone policy development until after the Carter decision comes into force in 2016.


Contents

I.    Revision of draft policy – Conscientious Refusal

II.    Focus of this submission

III.    Section 5.3

IV.    Section 5.3: Suggested modification

V.    Section 2: Scope

VI.    Summary

Appendix “A” – Ontario College briefing materials

Appendix “B” – Providing Information

Appendix “C” – Conscientious Refusal and assisted suicide/euthanasia

Protection of Conscience Project sees progress, room for improvement in draft Saskatchewan policy

Draft  policy no longer demands referral by objecting physicians

Project –  Prohibiting communication with patients by objecting physicians “unsound”; disclaimer re: euthanasia and assisted suicide “misleading and ill advised”

News Release

Protection of Conscience Project

A committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan has revised a controversial draft policy after a public consultation yielded “a very significant return” of over 4,400 responses, almost all of which opposed it.  The consultation appears to have produced no evidence that anyone in Saskatchewan has ever been unable to access medical services because a physician has declined to provide or refer for a procedure for reasons of conscience, or that the health of anyone in Saskatchewan has ever been adversely affected by conscientious objection by a physician.

The committee concluded that objecting physicians “should not be obligated to provide a referral to a physician who will ultimately potentially provide the service.”  The requirement was deleted from the revised draft.

In a submission to the College, the Protection of Conscience describes the deletion as as “entirely satisfactory” and “a tacit admission that such a policy would be an unacceptable assault on freedom of conscience – not a compromise.”

However, the revised draft effectively prohibits objecting physicians from communicating with patients about morally contested procedures, requiring them to refer patients to a non-objecting colleague.  The assumption underlying the recommendation is that a physician who has a moral viewpoint is incapable of properly communicating with a patient because of ‘bias’.

In its submission, the Project points out that all physicians have moral viewpoints. If the proposed policy is to be applied fairly and consistently, the ‘bias’ of physicians who do not object to a procedure should be nullified in the same way.

This proposal is unsound.  If applied as now written, it would simply exchange one kind of alleged ‘bias’ for another.  If applied fairly and consistently to all physicians, it would inconvenience patients, delay treatments, provide no better outcomes, double the costs of providing health care and antagonize physicians on all sides of any issue.

Instead, the Project recommends that all physicians should be required to provide patients with sufficient information to satisfy the requirements of informed medical decision making, and

  • advise patients at the earliest reasonable opportunity of services or procedures they decline to recommend or provide for reasons of conscience, and
  • advise affected patients that they may seek the services elsewhere, and ensure that they have sufficient information to approach other physicians, heath care workers or community organizations

After the public consultation, the drafting committee added a disclaimer to the revised draft stating that the policy will not apply to physician administered euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.  Among the ostensible reasons offered for this are that the issue is “in a state of development,” ethical implications have not been fully explored, legislation is lacking and there is “considerable uncertainty” about it.

The Project submission describes this as “misleading and ill-advised.”  It reminds the College that, when the associate registrar proposed the coercive policy in July, 2014, it was well known that the Supreme Court of Canada might well legalize physician assisted suicide, and he specifically referred to that.  After the Supreme Court of Canada issued its judgement in Carter, the associate registrar defended the proposition that physicians should be disciplined or fired if they refused to at least refer patients for euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. He did not then urge caution because the ethical implications of the ruling were unclear or there was considerable uncertainty about it.

“It is unrealistic to believe that Conscientious Refusal as revised will not be applied to physician administered euthanasia and physician assisted suicide,” states the Project submission, “either directly, after a certain length of time, or indirectly, as a paradigm for further policy development.”

It recommends that, if the College is determined to enact a policy on conscientious refusal, it should ensure that the policy adopted is sufficiently flexible to accommodate physicians with respect to all procedures or services. Otherwise, Council should reject Conscientious Refusal as revised and postpone policy development until after the Carter decision comes into force in 2016.

The revised policy, Conscientious Refusal, may again be considered by Council on 19 June, 2015.

Contact: 
Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project
Email: protection@consciencelaws.org

Saskatchewan policy forcing doctors to violate conscience fails to win enough support: final decision delayed

LifeSiteNews

Steve Weatherbe

A move to force Christian doctors in Saskatchewan to do abortions, assist at suicides, or refer patients to other willing doctors failed to win sufficient support at a meeting of the College of Physicians and Surgeons’ ruling council Thursday.

Faced with 4,400 hostile letters, many instigated by the Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, the council decided to continue discussion at an emergency meeting on Saturday, and likely to put off a final vote until June, after a full public consultation.

“They weren’t all on the same page at all,” said Colette Stang, the head of Saskatchewan Pro-Life Association. “So it was a bit of a relief. I was pleased the decision wasn’t made.”. . . [Full text]

Gagging conscience, violating humanity

Sean Murphy*

Introduction

In 2008, when the Council of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario was considering the final draft of an earlier policy, Physicians and the Human Rights Code, a member of the Council seems to have been troubled by the policy direction being given to the Colllege by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC).

Speaking during the Council meeting, he drew his colleagues’ attention to a chilling New England Journal of Medicine article by Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel: “Without conscience.”1 It was about the crucial role played by German physicians in supporting Nazi horrors. “How can we explain their betrayal?” Wiesel asked. “What gagged their conscience? What happened to their humanity?”2

Now, however, to the applause of the OHRC,3 the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has approved a policy to gag the consciences of physicians in the province,4 and Saskatchewan is next in line.5  We may soon begin to discover the answers to Wiesel’s questions.

There is no duty to do what is believed to be wrong.

Policies like those adopted in Ontario and proposed in Saskatchewan are incoherent because they purport to include a duty to do what one believes to be wrong in a code of ethics or ethical guidelines, the very purpose of which is to encourage physicians to act ethically and avoid wrongdoing.

Beyond this, when discussion about difficulties associated with the exercise of freedom of conscience in health care is repeatedly characterized as “the problem of conscientious objection,”6 it becomes clear that the underlying premise is that people and institutions ought to do what they believe to be wrong, and that refusal to do what one believes to be wrong requires special justification.  This is exactly the opposite of what one would expect. Most people believe that we should not do what we believe to be wrong, and that refusing to do what we believe to be wrong is the norm. It is wrongdoing that needs special justification or excuse, not refusing to do wrong.

The inversion is troubling, since “a duty to do what is wrong” is being advanced by those who support the “war on terror.” They argue that there is, indeed, a duty to do what is wrong, and that this includes a duty to kill non-combatants and to torture terrorist suspects.7 The claim is sharply contested,8 but it does indicate how far a duty to do what is wrong might be pushed. In Quebec, in Ontario and in Saskatchewan it is now being pushed as far as requiring physicians to participate in killing patients, even if they believe it is wrong: even if they believe that it is homicide.9

This reminder is a warning that the community must be protected against the temptation to give credence to the dangerous idea that is now being advanced by medical regulators in Canada: that a learned or privileged class, a profession or state institutions can legitimately compel people to do what they believe to be wrong – even gravely wrong – and punish them if they refuse.

Forcing someone to do wrong is a violation of humanity, not a limitation of freedom.

Attempts to suppress freedom of conscience and religion in the medical profession are often defended using a statement of the Supreme Court of Canada: “the freedom to hold beliefs is broader than the freedom to act on them.”10

Click here to access Journal.
Click here to access Journal.

The statement is not wrong, but it is inadequate. It is simply not responsive to many of the questions about the exercise of freedom of conscience that arise in a society characterized by a plurality of moral and political viewpoints and conflicting demands. More refined distinctions are required. One of them is the distinction between perfective and preservative freedom of conscience, which reflects the two ways in which freedom of conscience is exercised: by pursuing apparent goods and avoiding apparent evils.11

It is generally agreed that the state may limit the exercise of perfective freedom of conscience if it is objectively harmful, or if the limitation serves the common good. Although there may be disagreement about how to apply these principles, and restrictions may go too far, no polity could long exist without restrictions of some sort on human acts, so some limitation of perfective freedom of conscience is not unexpected.

If the state can legitimately limit perfective freedom of conscience by preventing people from doing what they believe to be good, it does not follow that it is equally free to suppress preservative freedom of conscience by forcing them to do what they believe to be wrong. There is a significant difference between preventing someone from doing the good that he wishes to do and forcing him to do the evil that he abhors.

We have noted the danger inherent in the notion of a “duty to do what is wrong.” Here we add that, as a general rule, it is fundamentally unjust and offensive to suppress preservative freedom of conscience by forcing people to support, facilitate or participate in what they perceive to be wrongful acts; the more serious the wrongdoing, the graver the injustice and offence. It is a policy fundamentally opposed to civic friendship, which grounds and sustains political community and provides the strongest motive for justice. It is inconsistent with the best traditions and aspirations of liberal democracy, since it instills attitudes more suited to totalitarian regimes than to the demands of responsible freedom.

This does not mean that no limit can ever be placed on preservative freedom of conscience. It does mean, however, that even the strict approach taken to limiting other fundamental rights and freedoms is not sufficiently refined to be safely applied to limit freedom of conscience in its preservative form. Like the use of potentially deadly force, if the restriction of preservative freedom of conscience can be justified at all, it will only be as a last resort and only in the most exceptional circumstances.

None of these conditions have been met in Ontario or in Saskatchewan.

[PDF Text]


Notes:

1.  Email to the Administrator, Protection of Conscience Project, from P__ H__ (present at College Council meeting 18 September, 2008) (2014-02-11, 10:10 am)

2.  Wiesel E. “Without Conscience.N Engl J Med 352;15 april14, 2005 (Accessed 2014-02-24)

3.  Letter from the Office of the Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission, to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, dated 19 February, 2015, Re CPSO Draft Policy: Professional Obligations and Human Rights

4.  College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, Policy #2-15: Professional Obligations and Human Rights (Updated March, 2015) (Accessed 2015-03-16)

5.  College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, Policy: Conscientious Refusal.

6.  For example, Cannold L. “The questionable ethics of unregulated conscientious refusal.”  ABC Religion and Ethics, 25 March, 2011. (Accessed 2013-08-11)

7.  Gardner J. “Complicity and Causality,” 1 Crim. Law & Phil. 127, 129 (2007). Cited in Haque, A.A. “Torture, Terror, and the Inversion of Moral Principle.” New Criminal Law Review, Vol. 10, No. 4, pp. 613-657, 2007; Workshop: Criminal Law, Terrorism, and the State of Emergency, May 2007. (Accessed 2014-02-19)

8.  Haque, A.A. “Torture, Terror, and the Inversion of Moral Principle.” New Criminal Law Review, Vol. 10, No. 4, pp. 613-657, 2007; Workshop: Criminal Law, Terrorism, and the State of Emergency, May 2007. (Accessed 2014-02-19)

9.  Quebec has already passed a law purporting to legalize euthanasia: Murphy S. “Redefining the Practice of Medicine- Euthanasia in Quebec, Part 9: Codes of Ethics and Killing.” Protection of Conscience Project, July, 2014.  The Supreme Court of Canada has ordered legalization of physician assisted suicide and physician administered euthanasia.  When the ruling takes effect in early 2016, the Ontario and Saskatchewan policies, as written, will have the effect of forcing physicians unwilling to kill patients or help them kill themselves to find a colleague willing to do so.

10.  Trinity Western University v. College of Teachers, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 772, 2001 SCC 31 (Accessed 2014-07-29)

11.  This section of the paper draws from an extended discussion of the subject in Murphy S, Geunis S.J. “Freedom of Conscience in Health Care: Distinctions and Limits.” J Bioeth Inq. 2013 Oct; 10(3): 347-54

“The core of a modern pluralism”

Sean Murphy*

Introduction

In 2008 the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) attempted to suppress freedom of conscience and religion in the medical profession in Ontario on the grounds that physicians are “providers of secular public services.”1   The hostility of the OHRC toward religious believers in the medical profession contributed significantly to anti-religious sentiments and a climate of religious intolerance in the province.  This was displayed last year during a public crusade against three Ottawa physicians who refused to prescribe or refer for contraceptives or abortion, in part, because of their religious beliefs.2

Despite the fact that there was no evidence that even a single person in Ontario has ever been unable to access medical services because of conscientious objection by a physician, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has now adopted a policy that requires all physicians who object to a procedure for reasons of conscience to direct patients to a colleague willing to provide it.3 A policy to the same effect has been approved in principle by the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Saskatchewan – also without evidence – though it is now under review.4

Submissions made by the Protection of Conscience Project to the Colleges in Ontario and Saskatchewan during public consultations included a discussion of religious belief, secularism and pluralism which has been adapted for this presentation.  The key points are that a proper understanding of “the secular” includes religious belief rather than excluding it, that the core of a modern pluralism requires the accommodation of different world views in the public square, and that this end is not served by authoritarian edicts issued by medical regulators.

A secular public square includes religious belief.

Those who would suppress freedom of conscience and religion in the medical profession on the grounds that physicians are “providers of secular public services”(emphasis added), erroneously presume that what is “secular” excludes religious belief.  The error is exposed by Dr. Iain Benson in his paper, Seeing Through the Secular Illusion.5

Dr. Benson emphasizes that the full bench of the Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously affirmed that “secular” must be understood to include religious belief.  The relevant statement by the Court opens with the observation that “nothing in the [Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms], political or democratic theory, or a proper understanding of pluralism demands that atheistically based moral positions trump religiously based moral positions on matters of public policy.”

The Court rejected that view that,  “if one’s moral view manifests from a religiously grounded faith, it is not to be heard in the public square, but if it does not, then it is publicly acceptable.”

The problem with this approach is that everyone has ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ in something, be it atheistic, agnostic or religious. To construe the ‘secular’ as the realm of the ‘unbelief’ is therefore erroneous. Given this, why, then, should the religiously informed conscience be placed at a public disadvantage or disqualification? To do so would be to distort liberal principles in an illiberal fashion and would provide only a feeble notion of pluralism. The key is that people will disagree about important issues, and such disagreement, where it does not imperil community living, must be capable of being accommodated at the core of a modern pluralism.6

Thus, the Supreme Court of Canada has acknowledged that secularists, atheists and agnostics are believers, no less than Christians, Muslims, Jews and persons of other faiths. Neither a secular state nor a secular health care system (tax-paid or not) must be purged of the expression of religious belief.  Instead, rational democratic pluralism in Canada must make room for physicians who act upon religious beliefs when practising medicine.

However, College officials in Ontario and Saskatchewan are taking exactly the opposite approach.  They demand morally significant participation by all physicians in procedures known to be contrary to the teaching of major religious groups.  Such policies are inimical to the presence of religious believers in medical practice.  Where the Supreme Court has recognized that religious believers and religious communities are part of the warp and woof of the Canadian social fabric, medical regulators in Ontario and Saskatchewan act as if they don’t exist – or should be made to disappear.

Accommodate different conceptions of “the good life.”

It is worthwhile to contrast the illiberal attitude of College officials with the approach taken by Madame Justice Bertha Wilson of the Supreme Court of Canada in the landmark 1988 case R. v. Morgentaler. Addressing issues of freedom of conscience and abortion, Madame Justice Wilson argued that “an emphasis on individual conscience and individual judgment . . . lies at the heart of our democratic political tradition.”7

At this point in the judgement, Wilson was not discussing whether or not the conscience of a woman should prevail over that of an objecting physician, but how the conscientious judgement of an individual should stand against that of the state. Her answer was that, in a free and democratic society, “the state will respect choices made by individuals and, to the greatest extent possible, will avoid subordinating these choices to any one conception of the good life.”8  This statement was affirmed unanimously in 1991 by a panel of five judges, and by the full bench of the Court in1996.9

The accommodation recommended by Madame Justice Wilson and the kind of modern pluralism advocated by the Supreme Court of Canada contrast sharply with the authoritarian approach being taken by Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons in Ontario and Saskatchewan.

Avoid authoritarian solutions.

Making room in the public square for people motivated by different and sometimes opposing beliefs can lead to conflict, but, as we have seen, the Supreme Court warns against that singling out and excluding religious belief or conscientious convictions in order to prevent or minimize such conflict is a perverse distortion of liberal principles.6

It is also dangerous. It overlooks the possibility that some secularists – like some religious believers – can be uncritical and narrowly dogmatic in the development of their ethical thinking, and intolerant of anyone who disagrees with them. They might see them as heretics who must be driven from the professions, from the public square, perhaps from the country: sent to live across the sea with their “own kind,” as one of the crusaders against the Ottawa physicians put it.10

University of Victoria law professor Mary Anne Waldron provides a reminder and a warning:

Conflict in belief is an endemic part of human society and likely always will be. What has changed, I think, is the resurrection of the idea that we can and should compel belief through legal and administrative processes, or, if not compel the belief itself, at least force conformity. Unfortunately, that begins the cycle of repression that, if we are to maintain a democracy, we must break.11

On this point, it is essential to note that a secular ethic is not morally neutral.12 The claim that a secular ethic is morally neutral – or that one can practise medicine in a morally “neutral” fashion- is not merely fiction. It is an example of “bad faith authoritarianism. . . a dishonest way of advancing a moral view by pretending to have no moral view.”13

Ontario’s new policy and the one being considered in Saskatchewan illustrate one of the most common examples of “bad faith authoritarianism”: the pretence that forcing a physician who will not kill a patient to find someone willing to do so is an acceptable compromise that does not involve morally significant participation in killing.

[PDF Text]


Notes:

1.  Submission of the Ontario Human Rights Commission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario Regarding the draft policy, “Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code.” 15 August, 2008. (Accessed 2014-03-11), citing Norton K.C. “Letter to Ontario’s Attorney General expressing concern about allowing public officials to refuse to marry same-sex couples.” (Accessed 2014-03-11)

2.  Murphy S.  “NO MORE CHRISTIAN DOCTORS.”  Protection of Conscience Project (March, 2014)

3.  College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, Policy #2-15: Professional Obligations and Human Rights (Updated March, 2015) (Accessed 2015-03-16)

4.  College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, Policy: Conscientious Refusal.

5.  Benson, I.T., “Seeing Through the Secular Illusion” (July 29, 2013). NGTT Deel 54 Supplementum 4, 2013. (Accessed 2014-02-18)

6.  Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36 [2002] 4 S.C.R. 710 (SCC), para. 137 (Accessed 2014-08-03). Dr. Benson adds: “Madam Justice McLachlin, who wrote the decision of the majority, accepted the reasoning of Mr. Justice Gonthier on this point thus making his the reasoning of all nine judges in relation to the interpretation of ‘secular.'” Benson I.T., “Seeing Through the Secular Illusion” (July 29, 2013). NGTT Deel 54 Supplementum 4, 2013.  (Accessed 2014-02-18)

7.  R. v. Morgentaler  (1988)1 S.C.R 30 (Supreme Court of Canada) p. 165.  Accessed 2015-02-26.

8.  R. v. Morgentaler  (1988)1 S.C.R 30 (Supreme Court of Canada) p. 166. Accessed 2015-02-26.

9.  R. v. Salituro[1991] 3 S.C.R. 654; Québec (Curateur public) c. Syndicat national des employés de l’Hôpital St-Ferdinand, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 211 (Accessed 2015-03-05).

10.   Murphy S. “NO MORE CHRISTIAN DOCTORS. Appendix C: Radical Handmaids Facebook Page Timeline”, T___ M___, 29 January, 2014, 6:56 pm.”
Protection of Conscience Project (March, 2014)

11.  Waldron, MA, “Campuses, Courts and Culture Wars.” Convivium, February/March 2014, p. 33

12.  The distinction between ethics and morality is mainly a matter of usage. Recent trends identify ethics as the application of morality to a specific discipline, like medicine or law. In a broader and older sense, ethics is concerned with how man ought to live, while the study of morality focuses on ethical obligations. See the entry on “Ethics and Morality” in Honderich T. (Ed.) The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (2nd Ed.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

13.   “The question of neutrality has been profoundly obscured by the mistake of confusing neutrality with objectivity… neutrality and objectivity are not the same… objectivity is possible but neutrality is not. To be neutral, if that were possible, would be to have no presuppositions whatsoever. To be objective is to have certain presuppositions, along with the manners that allow us to keep faith with them.” Budziszewski J., “Handling Issues of Conscience.” The Newman Rambler, Vol. 3, No. 2, Spring/Summer 1999, P. 4.