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Canadian doctors’ right to freedom of conscience under attack

January 6, 2015 3 Comments


ONLINE – A draft human rights policy from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) released in late 2014 has critics concerned the policy will restrict the religious and moral freedoms of physicians in Ontario.

Historically, the CPSO has recognized the right of doctors to refuse to provide non-emergency treatment to patients when such treatment conflicts with the physicians’ moral or religious beliefs. The new policy would force doctors to refer patients to other physicians willing to provide such treatment.

“[The] draft policy has deeply disturbed health service providers and patients,” writes Executive Director Larry Worthern of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada (CMDS), along with Albertos Polizogopoulos, a constitutional law expert with Vincent Dagenais Gibson LLP/s.r.l. The CMDS represents 1600 physicians across Canada.

“The draft policy forces physicians to do certain procedures or prescribe certain pharmaceuticals against their own moral or religious convictions in some cases,” the authors continue, “or to make a formal referral to another doctor in others. In doing so the CPSO has drafted a policy that violates Canadian law.”

The change is considered particularly distressing in light of current debate in Canada over the legalization of euthanasia. The new policy could conceivably force doctors to refer patients attempting to procure an assisted suicide, despite the physicians’ own belief that the taking of life is morally wrong.

“Unfortunately, the purpose of this draft policy appears to be clear,” Worthern and Polizogopoulos write. “It was not designed to ensure that physicians understand and comply with their legal obligations under the Code, but rather, it appears to have been designed with the goal of either compelling physicians who object to specific procedures and pharmaceuticals to act against their moral and religious convictions or, alternatively, to drive those who object to these procedures and pharmaceuticals out of the medical profession.”

The draft policy is currently available for public comment on the CPSO’s website, and Lutherans for Life-Canada President Cliff Pyle is encouraging Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) members to make their voices heard. “Medical doctors require freedom of conscience to treat patients as they think best; they ought not be forced to offer patients treatment, or refer them to other doctors for treatment, that they believe morally wrong.”

He continued: “I encourage LCC members—those in the medical profession as well as those in the general public—to visit the CPSO’s website and state their objections to the new draft policy.”

The CPSCO is accepting comments on the draft policy until February 20, 2015.