Ontario Court of Appeal supports ‘effective referral’ for morally contested procedures, including euthanasia


Court unanimously affirms right of state to compel participation in homicide, suicide, etc.

News Release

Protection of Conscience Project

On 15 May, 2019, three judges of the Ontario Court of Appeal unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that physicians can be forced to facilitate procedures they find morally objectionable, including euthanasia and assisted suicide, by connecting patients with willing providers (“effective referral”).

The Court of Appeal judgement concerned a 2018 decision by the Ontario Divisional Court that had been appealed by the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada and others. The litigation was a response to a compulsory “effective referral” policy imposed by Ontario’s state medical regulator, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

The Protection of Conscience Project, Catholic Civil Rights League and Faith and Freedom Alliance jointly intervened at trial and in the appeal in support of freedom of conscience.

The Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal both acknowledged the joint intervention, but neither considered the arguments it proposed because the case was decided solely on the basis of freedom of religion claims. The Court of Appeal held that the evidence at trial was “insufficient to support an analysis of freedom of conscience.”

“To the extent the individual appellants raise issues of conscience,” said the Court, “they are inextricably grounded in their religious beliefs,” so that, “at its core, the appellants’ claim is grounded in freedom of religion.”[para. 85]

Since the arguments in the Project’s intervention were not addressed at trial or in the appeal, Project Administrator Sean Murphy believes that they are unaffected by the decision.

“The focus of the Court was on religiously-motivated refusal to participate in perceived wrongdoing,” said Murphy. “The analytical framework proposed in the joint intervention could easily have been adapted and applied to that particular form of the exercise of religious freedom. The evidentiary record would have been sufficient for that purpose.”

“However, the Court did not do this, so the arguments still stand, and they can be raised again in another appropriate case.”

The decision demonstrates that the judges uncritically adopted the view of the College that euthanasia, assisted suicide, abortion, contraception, sterilization, sex change surgery, etc. are acceptable forms of medical treatment or health care. They further noted that abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide “carry the stigmatizing legacy of several centuries of criminalization grounded in religious and secular morality.” [para. 123]. On the other hand, they gave no weight to contrary views held by the plaintiffs.

The Court of Appeal also supported the College’s assertion that objecting physicians unwilling to comply with the demand for effective referral could change their scope of practice and move into fields like “sleep medicine, hair restoration, sport and exercise medicine, hernia repair, skin disorders . . . obesity medicine, aviation examinations, travel medicine . . . administrative medicine or surgical assistance.”[para. 71]

The appellants have 60 days to consider and appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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

Protection of Conscience at the Ontario Court of Appeal

News Release

Protection of Conscience Project

On 21/21 January the Protection of Conscience Project jointly intervened at the Court of Appeal of Ontario to support freedom of conscience against an oppressive policy of Ontario’s state medical regulator, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO). CPSO policies demand that physicians who object to morally contested procedures – including euthanasia and assisted suicide – must help patients find a colleague willing to provide the contested services.

The Court was hearing the appeal of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies, Canadian Physicians for Life and five individual physicians against an Ontario Divisional Court decision . The Divisional Court had ruled in favour of the CPSO, ruling, in effect, that physicians unwilling to do what they believed to be wrong by providing “effective referrals” were free to move to medical specialties where they would not face conflicts of conscience.

Expert evidence from the appellants indicated that it is extremely difficult for physicians to retrain, and that only 2.5 per cent of all physician positions in Canada would be “safe” for objecting physicians: pathology, hair loss, obesity medicine, sleep disorders and research were among the few available specialities.

The appellants’ submissions were supported by the intervention of the Ontario Medical Association, representing more than 41,000 practising and retired physicians, medical students and residents.

Joining the Project as “Conscience Interveners” were the Catholic Civil Rights League and Faith and Freedom Alliance. The joint submission noted the difference between perfective freedom of conscience (doing what one believes to be good) and preservative freedom of conscience (refusing to do what one believes to be wrong), a distinction hitherto ignored in judicial analysis.

Acknowledging that freedom of conscience can be limited to safeguard the common good, the Conscience Interveners argued that it does not follow that limits on perfective and preservative freedom of conscience can be justified on the same grounds or to the same extent.

The joint intervention drew the Court’s attention to the opinion of Supreme Court Justice Bertha Wilson in R v. Morgentaler, the only extended discussion of freedom of conscience in Canadian jurisprudence. Justice Wilson’s reasoning drew upon the key principle that humans are not a means to an end, and we should never be exploited by someone as a tool to serve someone else’s good – a principle championed by people like Martin Luther King Jr.

This principle – identified as the principle against servitude – was proposed as a principle of fundamental justice, a novel and constitutionally significant assertion. Alternatively, the Conscience Interveners argued that the principle against servitude is so foundational to human rights and freedoms it is difficult to imagine how violating it might be justified.

Forcing someone to participate in perceived wrongdoing demands the submission of intellect, will, and conscience, and violates the principle against servitude by reducing that person to the status of a tool to be used by others. This manner of servitude cannot be reconciled with principles of equality. It is an assault on human dignity that deprives physicians of their essential humanity.

Factum of the Conscience Interveners

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, B’nai Brith, and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms intervened in support of the physician appellants. Dying With Dignity Canada and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association intervened against them.

The Court reserved its decision.

Related: CCRL news release

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

Professor David Oderberg joins Protection of Conscience Project Advisory Board

News Release   

For immediate release

Protection of Conscience Project

The Protection of Conscience Project welcomes David S. Oderberg, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading, UK to the Project Advisory Board. Professor Oderberg joined the university after completing his doctorate at Oxford in the early 1990s. He is the author of many articles in metaphysics, ethics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, and other areas. He is also the author of several books including Moral Theory and Applied Ethics (Blackwell, 2000) as well as co-editor of collections in ethics such as Human Values: New Essays on Ethics and Natural Law (Palgrave, 2004) and Human Lives: New Essays on Non-Consequentialist Bioethics (Palgrave, 1997).

Prof. Oderberg has been working on freedom of conscience in health care over the last few years, with a recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics on co-operation, and a forthcoming policy monograph to be published by the Institute of Economic Affairs. He is Editor of Ratio, an international journal of analytic philosophy, and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. In 2013 he delivered the Hourani Lectures in Ethics at SUNY Buffalo, and has a book forthcoming based on those lectures, to be called The Metaphysics of Good and Evil. [Faculty Profile] [Website]

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


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. 

 

 

Protection of Conscience Project welcomes new advisor from Scotland

News Release
For immediate release

Protection of Conscience Project

The Protection of Conscience Project welcomes Dr. Mary Neal, PhD, LLB Honours, LLM to the Project Advisory Board. Dr. Neal is Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.  She researches, writes, and teaches in the fields of Healthcare Law and Bioethics, focusing on beginning and end-of-life issues.  In 2014-15, she was Adviser to the Scottish Parliamentary Committee scrutinising the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, and she is a current member [2018] of the British Medical Association’s Medical Ethics Committee. She has published a wide range of academic articles and blogs on a range of topics including, most recently, conscientious objection by healthcare professionals; the nature of ‘proper medical treatment’; the role of the emotions in end-of-life decision-making; and the conceptual structure and content of human dignity.

Dr. Neal was a co-editor of and contributor to the recent volume Ethical Judgments: Re-writing Medical Law (Hart, 2017). Her works-in-progress include articles and book chapters on conscientious objection; the idea of ‘vulnerability’ in healthcare; physician-assisted suicide; and the role of dignity in human rights discourse. Among other research activities, Dr. Neal is currently leading two funded projects relevant to the issue of conscientious objection in healthcare. One is a British Academy/Leverhulme-funded project exploring conflicts between personal values and professional expectations in pharmacy practice. The other is a multi-disciplinary network of academics and healthcare professionals (the ‘Accommodating Conscience Research Network’, or ‘ACoRN’), funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and beginning with a series of roundtables exploring various aspects of conscientious objection in healthcare. Dr Neal is also a spokesperson for the Free Conscience campaign supporting the Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill currently before the UK Parliament.[Faculty Profile]

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


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. 

Canadian court rules that state can compel participation in homicide and suicide

News Release

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.

Contact:
Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project
E-mail: protection@consciencelaws.org


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.