“This has huge implications for the medical profession and it has huge implications for the people who will select medicine as a career.”
Spur Ottawa Writer
While Canadians wait for the Liberals to introduce legislation on physician assisted suicide, numerous Christian organizations are sounding alarm bells about the importance of protecting doctors’ conscience rights. Although the new laws have not yet been tabled, several provincial medical colleges are already demanding their members provide referrals and in some cases actually perform contentious procedures.
At a February 24 press conference on Parliament Hill, the Christian Heritage Party called for clear protection of conscience rights in the upcoming assisted suicide legislation.
“All Canadians, including doctors and other healthcare professionals, deserve the protection of their consciences,” says Rod Taylor, Leader of the Christian Heritage Party. “If we want a citizenry focused on the needs of others, and the rights of others, we must allow those citizens to honourably carry out their duties with a clean conscience.”
The day after the press conference the government committee exploring the issue recommended that the new laws require all doctors to provide referrals for assisted suicide, regardless of their beliefs.
“This has huge implications for the medical profession and it has huge implications for the people who will select medicine as a career, especially in the long term,” says Larry Worthen, Executive Director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS). “It’s a question of respect for human rights. Doctors with conscientious objections should be respected by our society, as any other minority.”
“If somehow the courts believe it’s someone’s democratic right to end their lives, under certain circumstances, I don’t feel it’s a doctor’s obligation to fulfill that role.”
Worthen warns that Canadians with conscientious objections will likely avoid medicine if their rights are not respected.
One local doctor shared his concerns with Spur Ottawa.
“Even though I can think of scenarios where physician assisted suicide might be, in some way, defensible, I think it’s a really tiny minority of cases. My big concern about the potential legislation is the harm that can come to thousands of individuals who might feel pressured to make decisions to end their lives.”
The doctor, who declined to be named because of potential of repercussions, says there is so much room for abuse of vulnerable people. One example he gave is for adult children of chronically ill parents to pressure them into ending their lives.
“As physicians, we are trained to protect and help the vulnerable. It doesn’t seem the role of a physician to counsel someone to end their life. If somehow the courts believe it’s someone’s democratic right to end their lives, under certain circumstances, I don’t feel it’s a doctor’s obligation to fulfill that role.”
“We need concerned Christians to express their support.”
Like Worthen, the doctor is also concerned about the impacts this could have on future doctors.
“I would be concerned for the generation of physicians behind me. When the government made it legal to do abortions, initially it was easy for physicians to not refer for abortions. But twenty years down the line, you have scenarios where there can be a lawsuit against the physician for wrongful birth. In the 1980s that wasn’t an issue, but now it’s commonplace.”
Following the Supreme Court decision to allow assisted suicide, CMDS formed a coalition of Christian organizations lobbying parliament and provincial legislatures to protect conscience rights. Worthen says it’s really important that concerned Christians voice their opinions with government officials—and the coalition has made that extremely easy.
“We need concerned Christians to express their support. Our website www.moralconvictions.ca has a platform that allows people to directly contact officials to express their concern about these issues.”
As they wait for the legislation to be tabled, CMDS is also fighting the battle on another front, with what they hope will be a trump card. Last spring they took the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons to court, challenging their policy that requires all doctors to refer and sometimes perform abortion and assisted suicide.
“If the legislation does not protect conscience rights, we still have our court challenge. We filed a legal application in the Ontario court on behalf of five doctors who are all concerned about the fact that the Ontario College is taking away their conscience rights.
“There are extreme challenges in the work we are doing. We would really appreciate if people would keep us in their prayers.”