Conscience Legislation Needed to Stop Abuse of Authority
12 May, 2004
Will Johnston, MD President
Canadian Physicians for Life
The recent near-failing of a medical student at a Canadian university, solely because the student has pro-life convictions, shows how intolerant some people have become about choices they dislike. For years, Canadian Physicians for Life has received anecdotal complaints from students who suspect that their medical school admission interview went badly after they truthfully answered questions which probed for pro-life beliefs. This recent case was blatant and completely documented, created undue anxiety for the student, and only ended after many months of unsuccessful appeals of the teachers’ intolerant actions. A modern democracy should have a keen interest in protecting vulnerable students from coercion by preceptors and professors who are unaware of, or insensitive to, the concept of freedom of conscience.
We don’t screen immigrants to Canada on the basis of race or religion. Why should such litmus tests be applied to citizens applying to enter key professions? Ethics profiling is no less objectionable than racial profiling.
Freedom of conscience, it seems, is now granted freely only to those whose views are acceptable to an authoritarian, secularist establishment. Others must endure the enormous costs and stress of legal challenges or implore sympathetic fellow citizens to petition those in power on their behalf. Until this situation is corrected, the Canadian experiment in pluralism will remain in a delayed adolescence.
Sincere proponents of multiculturalism and pluralism understand the importance of protection of conscience. But they must come to recognize that too many in positions of power need statutory reminders to treat fairly those who disagree with them about the damage abortion does to women and children.
Basic conscience protection such as that provided in Bill C-276 begins to address the problems of abuse of authority and ethics profiling which lead to the kind of injustice seen in the recent case of the medical student. Such abuses must be explicitly treated in law, not left to an ad-hoc scramble by the victim and his or her friends.
The time is long overdue for the Parliament of Canada to follow the lead of countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, and 46 American states to protect and clarify freedom of conscience for Canadian health care workers. In addition to necessary employment protection, the proposed Canadian legislation corrects deficiencies found in many such laws by explicitly protecting persons of conscience from exclusion from health sciences education and from discrimination by professional licensing bodies.
Canadian Physicians for Life 29 Moore Street, R.R. # 2 Richmond ON K0A 2Z0 ph/fax: 613-728-LIFE (5433) firstname.lastname@example.org