Canadian Medical Association plans for physician assisted suicide and euthanasia

Draft framework (June, 2015)

Annotated by the Protection of Conscience Project


lethal-injection-002On 6 February, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the legalization of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada, effective in February, 2016.1  The one year suspension of the ruling provided the federal and provincial governments time to make legislative and regulatory changes necessary to implement the ruling.  The federal government later announced that no new legislation would be proposed before the federal election in October.  A panel was appointed in July to conduct consultations and report to the federal government about options for a legislative response.2

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) had been preparing for legalization of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia since 2014.  In the months following the ruling, CMA officials and the Board of Directors finalized draft guidelines (“draft framework”) on the subject and published them in June.  A month long internal CMA on-line consulation concerning the draft framework ended on 8 July.  The results are to be reported at the CMA General Council in August.  It is expected that the CMA Board of Directors will ask delegates to approve the framework so that it can be used as the basis for subsequent policy development and discussion with government.

Annotated draft framework


1.  Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5 (Accessed 2015-06-27).

2.  “Government of Canada Establishes External Panel on options for a legislative response to Carter v. Canada: Panel to consult with stakeholders and all Canadians.”  Department of Justice News Release, 17 July, 2015 (Accessed 2015-07-23)

Sask MDs, doctors’ groups ask for a hearing by College of Physicians and Surgeons

News Release

Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada

SASKATOON, June 17, 2015 /CNW/ – Larry Worthen, Executive Director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada (CMDS), urged the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (CPSS), today, to support freedom of conscience when they meet on Friday, June 19th, to consider a policy on conscientious objection. CMDS and other doctors’ groups are asking for a meeting with the College’s drafting committee to express their concerns.

Said Larry Worthen, “To ask physicians to act against deeply held moral convictions would be a clear infringement on physicians’ rights to the Section 2 fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The College’s Associate Registrar Brian Salte has ties to the Conscience Research Project led by one of Canada’s leading proponents of abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, and Mr. Salte has attended briefings of that group. We ask that the College would give us equal time to present our side of the argument and hear concerns about how this policy will affect patient care in Saskatchewan.”

Previous CPSS policy drafts required that physicians refer patients for procedures even when performing such procedures went against the moral convictions of the physician. Under the drafts, physicians would even be forced to actually perform procedures even though to do so would go against strongly held moral and religious convictions. Physicians who refused to comply would be vulnerable to sanctions up to and including losing their licences.

“No one’s interests are served by effectively disqualifying certain Saskatchewan physicians from the practice of medicine,” said Worthen.

Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant physicians hold grave concerns about the negative effects when they are forced to act against their consciences.

“Going against one’s conscience can cause moral distress which has been shown to affect patient care adversely. We need to have physicians who are free to bring their whole selves to their patients, including their compassion and their ethics,” said Mary Deutscher, member of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon Justice and Peace Commission. “For Catholic physicians, participation in a formal referral makes them an accomplice in the procedure. This position is supported by many evangelical Protestant experts and other groups as well.”

This is also reflected in the positions of CMDS, Canadian Physicians for Life (CPL) and the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies (CFCPS).

“Should the College choose to adopt this policy, it would assume the role of judge and jury deciding who could or could not exercise their constitutionally protected rights,” said Faye Sonier, CPL’s General Legal Counsel. “Physicians who cannot perform certain procedures due to their beliefs would become a class of citizens who fall outside the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

“Physicians who hold conscientious objections do so with profound respect for both the well-being and the autonomy of their patients. Their conscientious objections also stem from a deep commitment to the Hippocratic Oath,” said Dr. Thomas Bouchard, M.D., of the CFCPS. “In debates about conscience rights, the debate is often framed as a competition between the rights of a patient to access services versus the conscience of a physician. But physicians in these circumstances do not care solely about their conscience rights. These physicians also care deeply about the good of their patients.”

Self-referral is already a commonly exercised option among patients, including in respect of abortion services, across most of Saskatchewan. Self-referral allows the doctor to avoid being involved in facilitating the provision of the service, and the patient gets prompt access to the service.

A public opinion survey conducted May 20th-27th by Abingdon Research indicated that when a patient and doctor have different views on best treatment because of the doctor’s moral convictions, 47.5% of the Saskatchewan public felt that a patient could seek further advice or help from a different doctor without a formal referral, compared with 44.1% who felt the doctor should provide a formal referral. More than 53% of Saskatchewan residents felt that “nothing should happen to the doctor” who was unwilling to provide a treatment or a referral for reasons of moral conviction.

“Doctors represented by our groups are willing to discuss all procedures with their patients in a caring and objective way. We simply ask that when the patient makes a decision that the doctor cannot support for moral reasons that the patient access another service provider directly,” added Dr. Sheila Harding, M.D., a Saskatoon haematologist. “I have heard of many cases where doctor and patient agree to disagree and the patient returns to the physician’s practice after the procedure. If anything, the physician-patient relationship was enhanced.”

CMDS (Christian Medical and Dental Society) represents some 1600 physicians and dentists across Canada ( The Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies ( represents groups from across Canada. Canadian Physicians for Life ( is the national association of pro-life physicians and provides resources and educational opportunities to thousands of physicians and medical students each year.

SOURCE Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada

For further information: Larry Worthen at 902-880-2495. Larry is available for interviews in Saskatoon after 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, June 17th, until Noon, Saturday, June 20th.

Conscientious objection policy rasies thorny issues for Sask. doctors

Saskatoon Star Phoenix

Jonathon Charlton

A draft policy under review by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan does not require doctors who refuse to perform an abortion to refer patients to one who will.

Associate registrar Bryan Salte declined to comment on specifics in the draft, noting they could change. The CPSS committee working on the policy was set to review it further Friday, and it will go to the full CPSS council for formal approval in principle June 19. . . [Full text]



Science, religion, public funding and force feeding in modern medicine

Responding to Bronca, T. “A conflict of conscience: What place do physicians’ religious beliefs have in modern medicine.” Canadian Health Care Network, 26 May, 2015.

Sean Murphy*

Tristan Bronca writes, “Belief without evidence is becoming incompatible with scientific sensibilities.”1

This notion might be exemplified by Dr. James Downar. Advocating for physician assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canadian Family Practice, he described himself as “a secular North American who supports individual autonomy, subject only to limitations that are justifiable on the basis of empirically provable facts.”2

Dr. Downar’s “Yes” was opposed by Dr. Edward St. Godard’s “No.”3 Since both are palliative care specialists, their differences on the acceptability of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia are not explained by differences in their clinical experience, but by their different moral or ethical beliefs.

However, neither Dr. Downar’s beliefs nor Dr. St. Godard’s can be justified “on the basis of empirically provable facts.” Nor can Dr. Downar’s support for individual autonomy, since empirical evidence demonstrates the primacy of human dependence and interdependence – not autonomy. Empirical evidence can provide raw material needed for adequate answers to moral or ethical questions, but it cannot answer them. As Dr. McCabe told Tristan Bronca, science is necessary – but not sufficient. Moral decision-making requires more than facts.

And the practice of medicine is an inescapably moral enterprise. Every time they provide a treatment, physicians implicitly concede its goodness; they would not otherwise offer it. This is usually unnoticed because physicians habitually conform to standards of medical practice without adverting to the beliefs underpinning them. Hence, the demand that physicians must not be allowed to act upon beliefs is unacceptable because it is impossible; one cannot act morally without reference to beliefs.

But Tristan Bronca asks specifically about whether or not religious beliefs belong in medical practice in a secular society. On this point, the Supreme Court of Canada is unanimous: “Yes.”

“Everyone has ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ in something, be it atheistic, agnostic or religious,” Mr. Justice Gonthier wrote in Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36. “To construe the ‘secular’ as the realm of the ‘unbelief’ is therefore erroneous.”

“Why,” he asked, “should the religiously informed conscience be placed at a public disadvantage or disqualification? To do so would be to distort liberal principles in an illiberal fashion and would provide only a feeble notion of pluralism.”4

Thus, to argue that a “secular” society excludes religious belief perpetuates an error that contributes significantly to climate of anti-religious intolerance.

Public funding of services is beneficial for patients, but quite distinct from physician obligations. After all, physicians provide many kinds of elective surgery and health services that are not publicly funded, and physicians are not paid for publicly funded services that they do not provide. Besides, our secular society taxes both religious and non-religious believers, so both have equal claims on “public dollars.”

Most important, public funding does not prove that a procedure is morally or ethically acceptable, any more than public funding proves that force-feeding prisoners in Guantanomo Bay is acceptable. Perhaps that point will come up in military proceedings against a navy nurse who refused orders to do so.5

The Canadian Healthcare Network posted this response in the on-line edition, which is accessible only to health care professionals and managers.


1.  Bronca, T. “A conflict of conscience: What place do physicians’ religious beliefs have in modern medicine.” Canadian Health Care Network, 26 May, 2015

2. Downar J. “Is physician-assisted death in anyone’s best interest? – Yes.” Canadian Family Physician, Vol. 61: April, 2015, p. 314-316 (Accessed 2015-06-04).

3. St. Godard E. “Is physician-assisted death in anyone’s best interest? – No.” Canadian Family Physician, Vol. 61: April, 2015, p. 316-318 (Accessed 2015-06-04).

4. Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36 [2002] 4 S.C.R. 710 (SCC), para. 137 (Accessed 2014-08-03). “Madam Justice McLachlin, who wrote the decision of the majority, accepted the reasoning of Mr. Justice Gonthier on this point thus making his the reasoning of all nine judges in relation to the interpretation of ‘secular.’” Benson I.T., “Seeing Through the Secular Illusion” (July 29, 2013). NGTT Deel 54 Supplementum 4, 2013  (Accessed 2014-02-18).

5. Rosenberg C. “Top nursing group backs Navy nurse who wouldn’t force-feed at Guantánamo.” Miami Herald, 19 November, 2014 (Accessed 2015-06-04)


Protection of Conscience Project sees progress, room for improvement in draft Saskatchewan policy

Draft  policy no longer demands referral by objecting physicians

Project –  Prohibiting communication with patients by objecting physicians “unsound”; disclaimer re: euthanasia and assisted suicide “misleading and ill advised”

News Release

Protection of Conscience Project

A committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan has revised a controversial draft policy after a public consultation yielded “a very significant return” of over 4,400 responses, almost all of which opposed it.  The consultation appears to have produced no evidence that anyone in Saskatchewan has ever been unable to access medical services because a physician has declined to provide or refer for a procedure for reasons of conscience, or that the health of anyone in Saskatchewan has ever been adversely affected by conscientious objection by a physician.

The committee concluded that objecting physicians “should not be obligated to provide a referral to a physician who will ultimately potentially provide the service.”  The requirement was deleted from the revised draft.

In a submission to the College, the Protection of Conscience describes the deletion as as “entirely satisfactory” and “a tacit admission that such a policy would be an unacceptable assault on freedom of conscience – not a compromise.”

However, the revised draft effectively prohibits objecting physicians from communicating with patients about morally contested procedures, requiring them to refer patients to a non-objecting colleague.  The assumption underlying the recommendation is that a physician who has a moral viewpoint is incapable of properly communicating with a patient because of ‘bias’.

In its submission, the Project points out that all physicians have moral viewpoints. If the proposed policy is to be applied fairly and consistently, the ‘bias’ of physicians who do not object to a procedure should be nullified in the same way.

This proposal is unsound.  If applied as now written, it would simply exchange one kind of alleged ‘bias’ for another.  If applied fairly and consistently to all physicians, it would inconvenience patients, delay treatments, provide no better outcomes, double the costs of providing health care and antagonize physicians on all sides of any issue.

Instead, the Project recommends that all physicians should be required to provide patients with sufficient information to satisfy the requirements of informed medical decision making, and

  • advise patients at the earliest reasonable opportunity of services or procedures they decline to recommend or provide for reasons of conscience, and
  • advise affected patients that they may seek the services elsewhere, and ensure that they have sufficient information to approach other physicians, heath care workers or community organizations

After the public consultation, the drafting committee added a disclaimer to the revised draft stating that the policy will not apply to physician administered euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.  Among the ostensible reasons offered for this are that the issue is “in a state of development,” ethical implications have not been fully explored, legislation is lacking and there is “considerable uncertainty” about it.

The Project submission describes this as “misleading and ill-advised.”  It reminds the College that, when the associate registrar proposed the coercive policy in July, 2014, it was well known that the Supreme Court of Canada might well legalize physician assisted suicide, and he specifically referred to that.  After the Supreme Court of Canada issued its judgement in Carter, the associate registrar defended the proposition that physicians should be disciplined or fired if they refused to at least refer patients for euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. He did not then urge caution because the ethical implications of the ruling were unclear or there was considerable uncertainty about it.

“It is unrealistic to believe that Conscientious Refusal as revised will not be applied to physician administered euthanasia and physician assisted suicide,” states the Project submission, “either directly, after a certain length of time, or indirectly, as a paradigm for further policy development.”

It recommends that, if the College is determined to enact a policy on conscientious refusal, it should ensure that the policy adopted is sufficiently flexible to accommodate physicians with respect to all procedures or services. Otherwise, Council should reject Conscientious Refusal as revised and postpone policy development until after the Carter decision comes into force in 2016.

The revised policy, Conscientious Refusal, may again be considered by Council on 19 June, 2015.

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

Illinois controversy about legislative overreach

 Catholic bishops withdraw opposition, others remain opposed

Confrontation centres on complicity

Sean Murphy*


Among American states, Illinois has the most comprehensive protection of conscience legislation, the Health Care Right of Conscience Act (HCRCA). In 2009 an attempt was made to nullify the Act with respect to abortion, contraception and related procedures by introducing HB 2354 (Reproductive Health and Access Act), but the bill died in committee two years later.1 Now it appears that the HRCA may be changed by Senate Bill 1564. Critics say the bill tramples upon physician freedom of conscience,2 while the bill’s supporters, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), claim that the bill is “about making sure no one is withholding information from the patient.”3

SB 1564 was actually drafted by the ACLU,3 but it was introduced by Illinois Senator Daniel Biss. He said that the amendments were partly in response to the case of a woman who was miscarrying over several weeks, but who was refused “diagnosis or options” in the hospital where she had sought treatment.4  Senator Bliss was apparently referring to the story of Mindy Swank, who testified before a Senate legislative panel about her experience.  The Illinois Times reported that she suffered “a dangerous, weeks-long miscarriage” because of the refusal of Catholic hospitals to provide abortions.5

Unfortunately, the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee does not record or transcribe its hearings, and conflicting news reports make it difficult to determine exactly what happened at some critical points in her story.  Moreover, it appears that the Committee did not hear from the hospitals and physicians who were involved with Ms. Swank, so we are left with a one-sided account of what took place.6

Nonetheless, as a first step in considering the particulars of the bill and the controversy it has engendered, it is appropriate to review the evidence offered to support it.  We will begin with Mindy Swank’s testimony, even if some details are lacking, and then examine the experience of Angela Valavanis, a second case put forward by the ACLU to justify SB 1564.7  [Full Text]

Project advisor awarded honour by state of Indiana

Dr. Shahid Athar receives Golden Hoosier Award

Dr. Shahid Athar, who has been an advisor to the Project from its inception, has received the state of Indiana’s Golden Hoosier Award.

Indiana has annually honoured selected senior citizens for their lifetime of service and commitment to their communities since 2008. The Golden Hoosier Award is considered one of the highest honours given by the State of Indiana to senior citizens.

Dr. Athar was nominated by Pastor Jerry Zehr and Razzi Nalim.  The award citation states:

Dr. Shahid Athar serves his community as a volunteer physician for Indianapolis’s homeless, HIV patients and other individuals who may not be able to afford medical treatment.  In addition, he serves as a board member for the Protection of Conscience Project, St. Vincent Ethical Committee, and the Islamic Medical Association of North America.  Most notably, Dr. Athar is known for his advocacy of interfaith as a way to overcome terrorism and to help Hoosier Muslims deal with the negative fallout of the attacks on September 11, 2001.  Dr. Athar is highly regarded among his peers and his community.  Whether he is providing professional medical care for the needy, or presenting on interfaith, he always leads by example and with compassion for others.  His generosity has left a lasting impression on Hoosiers of all faiths.

The term “Hoosier” means a resident of Indiana.

In Illinois, Bishops and Pro-Life Groups Differ on ACLU Conscience Bill

National Catholic Register

Peter Jesserer Smith

Both parties don’t like the pro-abortion-rights organization’s bill, but the Illinois Catholic Conference is standing neutral while local pro-life groups campaign against it in the state legislature.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A battle is under way over conscience rights and health care in the Illinois Legislature that has pro-life groups on one side, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood on the other, and the Illinois Catholic Conference standing neutral on the sidelines.

The ACLU of Illinois has proposed a change to Illinois’ broad legal protections for the conscience rights of health-care workers with S.B. 1564, which has already passed the state senate, but whose defeat the pro-life groups are urging in the state house.

If health-care facilities or personnel decline to provide services for reasons of conscience — such as abortions or sterilizations — the bill’s protocols would require them either to make referrals for such services or to provide information about other places where they are likely to be available. [Full Text]

An Open Letter to the Illinois Legislature

The state should vote down a bill that would trample on citizen conscience rights

National Review

Robert P. George

To the members of the Illinois Legislature:

I understand that you are considering passing SB 1564, a bill to amend the existing laws of Illinois that protect freedom of conscience. I urge you not to do so, as SB 1564 fatally weakens the conscience rights of Illinois citizens.

SB 1564 would amend existing law to, among other things, add a new section regarding “access to care and information protocols.” This section would require “health care facilities, physicians, and health care personnel” who are opposed for reasons of conscience to performing an abortion to, nevertheless, “refer, transfer, or give information . . . about other health care providers who they reasonably believe may offer . . . the . . . service,” which includes abortion. In so providing, SB 1564 violates elementary notions of conscience protection.. . [Full text]

After Hobby Lobby: What Is Caesar’s, What Is God’s?

Address at the pre-conference session, ‘After Hobby Lobby: What Is Caesar’s, What Is God’s?’

2015 Petrie-Flom Center Annual Conference
“Law, Religion, and Health in America,”
Harvard Law School

  Frank R. Wolf, *

. . . As we ponder, “What Is Caesar’s, What Is God’s?”, I am reminded of a profound quote from one of Virginia’s native sons.

Founding Father James Madison once opined, “Conscience is the most sacred of all property.” And as it relates to our discussion today, I maintain that conscience is most assuredly God’s.

In that vein, I’d like to begin with a personal story which serves as a window into my own conscience.

On the opening day of a new Congress, the vote for Speaker is the first vote held, and it is always by voice vote. Each Member’s name is called out, and he or she shouts out the name of their party leader.

On January 7, 1997 – the opening day of the 105th Congress – we were voting on the reelection of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House.

Newt was then under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. The House Democratic whip, David Bonior, had filed most of the eighty-four ethics charges against him, which ranged from accusations that Newt had misused tax-exempt funds to criticism over a lucrative advance he was offered by HarperCollins to write two books.

Eighty-three of the eighty-four charges were ultimately dropped.

However at the time of the vote, the Ethics Committee report had not yet been published.

I felt that I could not, in good conscience, vote for Newt as Speaker until I had seen the report. This turned out to be a very controversial decision.  [Full text]