No conscience rights protection for health care providers

The Sachem
Reproduced with permission

Sam Oosterhoff

In March, I attended hearings for Bill 84, the Medical Assistance in Dying legislation put forward by the provincial Liberals.

I listened to doctors, nurses, ethicists, religious leaders and human rights advocates who had travelled from across Ontario to bring forward their concerns about this law. After the federal Liberal government legalized physician assisted suicide last year, they wanted to ensure there was adequate consultation in the provincial implementation.

Faced with the situation of legal physician assisted suicide, health professionals need clear and explicit conscience protection so that they will not be forced to take part and contradict their deeply held personal convictions.

Conscience rights are fundamental human rights which are clearly protected in our country under Section 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yet Bill 84 offers no protection for the conscience rights of health professionals.
Since Bill 84 was introduced last December, my office has been flooded with phone calls, emails, and visits from constituents who are concerned with the lack of conscience protections in the bill.

Some doctors say that they would have to leave the practice of medicine in Ontario if they were forced to act against their conscience. Physicians should not be punished for conducting their work according to their most deeply-held ethical or religious convictions.

The Ontario PC Party put forward two amendments that would have provided robust conscience protection. We believe health care professionals should not be forced to refer for, perform or assist in physician assisted suicide against their will and should not be discriminated against for taking this stand. Unfortunately both amendments were rejected by the Liberal majority on the committee.

Larry Worthen of the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience told the committee: “We want to reassure you that there is another way. No foreign jurisdiction that has legalized assisted suicide has required doctors or nurses to participate against their will, and there’s no indication that this has caused any crisis in access. Other provinces — specifically Alberta — have come up with innovative options.” Ontario can and should do the same.

My colleague Jeff Yurek, the health critic for the PC Caucus, will be introducing a Private Member’s Bill in May as another way to fight for conscience protection in Ontario.  I will continue to fight for conscience rights, and I encourage you to contact my office to share your thoughts and perspective on this very sensitive and important issue.


Sam Oosterhoff is the MPP for Niagara West-Glanbrook

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