Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude

Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code

Ontario Human Rights Commission attempts to suppress freedom of conscience

August-September, 2008

Sean Murphy*


The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is the regulatory and licensing authority for physicians and surgeons practising in Ontario. In February, 2008, the Ontario Human Rights Commission responded to a draft policy of the College with a submission recommending that the exercise of freedom of conscience by physicians be restricted.

The College, in response, released a draft policy Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code, indicating that Ontario physicians will be expected to sacrifice their freedom of conscience to meet the demands of their patients and avoid prosecution by Ontario's human rights apparatus.

According to the College, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal may take action against a physician who refuses to provide or refer for procedures that he finds morally objectionable. In addition to the possibility of prosecution by the Tribunal, the College states that it will consider the Human Rights Code in adjudicating complaints of professional misconduct. The College's draft policy also suggests that the College plans to force objecting physicians to actively assist patients to obtain morally controversial services. The Ontario Human Rights Commission has since commented further on the College's proposals, and the tenor of its submission makes clear that the OHRC and related agencies pose a significant threat to the exercise of freedom of conscience by health care professionals. [For an overview of Ontario's human rights regime, see The New Inquisitors]

The existence of the draft College policy became generally known only on 14 August, 2008, the day before a deadline set for responses to the document. The subsequent controversy caused the College to extend the deadline for submissions to 12 September, 2008.  The College was forced to revise its proposal by numerous responses and submissions, links to some of which follow.

Responses and Submissions to the Colllege of Physicians and Surgeons

Protection of Conscience Project

. . .Physicians who decline to do something they believe to be wrong are not discriminating against individuals on grounds prohibited by the Ontario Human Rights Code. Their concern is to avoid direct or indirect complicity in wrongdoing, not with the personal characteristics, status or inclinations of a patient. . . continue reading

Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform

. . .I recently read the CPSO's draft policy document, "Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code." In reviewing the document I was struck by its intolerance towards the deeply-held, truth-based beliefs of physicians. . .continue reading

Canadian Family Physician

. . . Of course, it is essential that physicians treat patients with respect and courtesy even if they have differences of opinion. And it is possible to maintain healthy relationships in difficult situations without physicians having to act against their conscience. . . continue reading (Kelsall D. Whose right? Can Fam Physician 2008;54:1353

Canadian Physicians for Life

. . . The College documents present an unseemly image of the College preparing to shine its shoes before inspection by a higher authority. And yet human rights commissions, as you are undoubtedly aware, are increasingly scrutinized for various abuses which they themselves engender. . .continue reading interim response

. . . It is not the responsibility of any physician to manage, promote, or enhance access to a procedure which he or she finds medically harmful and morally repugnant. The ethical bankruptcy of any society which would punish physicians who object to abortion, and the imprudence of doctors sitting in regulatory institutions who would threaten to punish their objecting colleagues, should be obvious. . . continue reading full submission

Catholic Archbishop of Toronto

. . .If a physician cannot in conscience perform or facilitate an action that is requested, wil that physician face the threat of being sanctioned for violating a patient's human rights and for professional misconduct?  Is that the cost of being true to one's conscience? . . .continue reading

Catholic Civil Rights League

. . .Canada has an established custom of accommodating sincerely held religious and conscientious convictions as much as possible. The expectation that physicians must set aside their beliefs with regard to treatments or referrals that violate their conscience is unreasonable . . .continue reading

Catholic Organization for Life and Family

. . . COLF is concerned about the policy's implicit expectations upon physicians with respect to engaging in a medical act to which they may have a conscientious objection. Second, we are concerned about the policy's seeming redefinition and narrowing of the role of the physician vis-à-vis the patient and within society. . .continue reading

Centre for Cultural Renewal

. . .Human Rights, it seems, now entails monitoring conflicting beliefs in society, turning them into one half of a human rights issue, and then, by eradicating the possibility of dissent (for that is what a physician's ability to refuse to refer amounts to) forcing some citizens to effectively implicate themselves in the beliefs of other citizens. . .continue reading

Chalcedon Foundation

. . .Canada's human rights commissions and tribunals have become a law unto themselves. They are not bound by rules of evidence, precedent, or courtroom procedure. The state pays all the plaintiffs' legal costs, but defendants must pay their own. "Feelings" are accepted as evidence, and the "likelihood" of damages being incurred, at some indefinite time in the future, substitutes for real damages that can be shown to have been incurred. . .continue reading

Christian Legal Fellowship

. . . As there is no basis in the law or in the established policies of the OHRC, CMA, or CPSO for the draft policy, we respectfully request that the policy be rejected. . . continue reading

Ontario Medical Association

. . .It is the OMA's position that physicians maintain a right to exercise their own moral judgment and freedom of choice in making decisions regarding medical care and that the CPSO not insert itself into the interpretation of human rights statutes. . .
(OMA President's Update, Volume 13, No. 23, 11 September, 2008.  Removed from website.) The Ontario Medical Association wants the provincial licensing body to kill a proposal that would force physicians to put aside their religious beliefs when making decisions in their medical practice. "We will not defy our beliefs, doctors say" (National Post, 13 September, 2008)

Fr. Raymond De Souza

A timely intervention has prevented the cancer from metastasizing, but aggressive treatment is still needed. . . There was a real danger of metastasis, as the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) attempted to spread its corruption to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO). The timely intervention came from the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) and other public voices. . .continue reading

Dr. T.E. Lau

. . .Please reconsider forcing physicians to go against their conscience. With the a new euthanasia bill on the horizon and the lack of any limitation to abortion for any reason or at any stage, it is clear to me that taking this stand will endanger the principled, conscientious, and responsible care of our patients, not just now but in the years to come.continue reading

Dr. Margaret Somerville

. . .Unlike the mechanic, however, a physician who refuses to be involved, for instance, in abortion, is not providing the service to one patient but not another, or basing his refusal on any characteristic of the patient. Rather, he is refusing the service to all patients and doing so because of the nature of the procedure, which he believes is morally and ethically wrong. . . continue reading

John W. Veldkamp

I have just become aware of the document "Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code" and I feel compelled to inform the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons (the "College") of my concerns that this document is both deeply flawed and unworkable. . .continue reading

Dr. Stephen Genuis

. . .the policy of coercing ethical doctors to do what they feel is unethical-whether by threat of lawsuits or disciplinary action-displays supreme intolerance of diverse views and choice precisely at a time in Canada when human rights commissions are demanding more tolerance, heralding choice, and proclaiming respect for diversity. . . . it seems physicians are entitled to express their opinions to patients only as long as they say the "right" things according to the OHRC grid. . . continue reading

Rory Leishman

The Ontario Human Rights Commission is truly evil. By threatening to prosecute physicians under the Ontario Human Rights Code for refusing to participate in an abortion on demand, it has perpetrated one of the worst attacks on the right to conscience of physicians since Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Reich Commissar for the occupied Netherlands, tried to compel Dutch physicians to take part in the Nazi euthanasia program for the "useless, incurably sick." . . .continue reading

Louis DeSerres

. . . Basing itself on the flawed policy of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the CPSO assumed that no moral ambiguity was possible and that, therefore, none should be tolerated. . .continue reading