Freedom of conscience for Ontario physicians a prominent concern

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the state regulator of the practice of medicine in the province, is reviewing its policy on freedom of conscience for physicians (Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code).  A first phase of public consultation ended 5 August, 2014 and attracted almost 1,800 responses in a discussion forum, most supportive of freedom of conscience [CMAJ].

The straw poll on the consultation page asked the question, “Do you think a physician should be allowed to refuse to provide a patient with a treatment or procedure because it conflicts with the physician’s religious or moral beliefs?”  The results of the survey (the accuracy of which seems uncertain) showed that, of 32,912 respondents, 25,230 (77%) answered “Yes”, 7,616 (23%) answered “No” and 66 were undecided.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission unsuccessfully attempted to suppress freedom of conscience in the medical profession in Ontario in 2008.  In its 2014 submission to the College, the Protection of Conscience Project stated:

The Ontario Human Rights Commission made a serious error in 2008 when it attempted to suppress freedom of conscience and religion in the medical profession on the grounds that physicians are “providers of secular public services.” In its public perpetuation of this error, the Commission has contributed significantly to anti-religious sentiments and a climate of religious intolerance in Ontario. Both were on display earlier this year when it became front page news and a public scandal that three physicians had told their patients that they would not recommend, facilitate or do what they believed to be immoral, unethical, or harmful.

Citizens’ initiative calls for right to conscientious objection in health care

Helsinki Times

Over 18,000 Finns have expressed their support for a citizens’ initiative calling for a right to health care professionals to refuse to participate in performing abortions on grounds of personal or religious convictions.

The initiative will be presented to the Parliament for discussion if it accumulates a minimum of 50,000 statements of support. An earlier bill on abortion only received marginal support beyond the ranks of the Christian Democrats. . . . [Full Text]

Medical association vows to protect conscience rights

The Catholic Register

Michael Swan

The Canadian Medical Association has passed a new policy on conscience rights that supports a doctor’s right to choose whether or not to help patients commit suicide in jurisdictions where it may become legal.

“If the law were to change, then we would support the right of physicians to follow their conscience. It (the new policy) doesn’t say we favour a change in the law,” said Dr. Jeff Blackmer, the CMA’s executive director of ethics. The CMA stance opposing euthanasia remains in place. “Our position is still that Canadian physicians should not participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide,” Blackmer said. The CMA will come to the defence of doctors who refuse to participate in euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide if the law changes to make those practices legal. . . [Full Text]

$1,000.00 prize offered in essay competition for university students

JCCF launches its 2014 essay contest for students at Canadian universities

“Why preserve freedom of religion and conscience in Canada’s increasingly secularized society?”

In 1970, less than 1 per cent of Canadians identified themselves as having “no religion”. By 2005, this had grown to 22 per cent. While less than one fifth of Canadians attend a religious service at least once a week, the number of Canadians who never attend church at all has increased to include over one third of the population. Section 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrines freedom of religion and conscience as a “fundamental” freedom along with freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of peaceful assembly. Freedom of religion and conscience is also the very first freedom that is listed in the Charter. But with fewer Canadians adhering to any identifiable religion, should freedom of religion and conscience be limited to a right to establish and attend places of worship? [Go to JCCF for further details.]

Baby delivered at 25 weeks gestation in Ireland to avoid death by abortion

News reports indicate that an immigrant woman whom a friend says was raped in her country of origin discovered that she was pregnant after arriving in Ireland.  The friend says that she asked for an abortion when she was eight weeks pregnant, but it is not clear that she was then eligible for the procedure under the new Irish abortion law.  According to the reports, she again asked for an abortion in July, threatening suicide, and was found to be suicidal by a panel of two psychiatrists and an obstetrician.

The Irish Constitution and the Irish abortion law hold that the lives of both woman and child are of equal value, and both must be saved if practicable.  Since the pregnancy was so far advanced, it was decided that the baby should be delivered by Caesarean section, since that would provide the baby an opportunity to survive.  The woman initially refused and refused to take food or fluids.  After medical authorities obtained a court order to rehydrate her she consented to the Caesarean and the baby was delivered at about 25 weeks gestation.  The baby is now apparently in the custody of the state and being supported in a neonatal ward, while the mother is receiving psychiatric treatment.

The case has reignited the abortion controversy in Ireland.



Canadian Medical Association Board of Directors confirms new assisted suicide, euthanasia policy

Two days after it was passed at an Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Medical Association, the CMA Board of Directors approved the following motion:

6.  The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) supports the right of all physicians, within the bounds of existing legislation, to follow their conscience when deciding whether to provide medical aid in dying as defined in CMA’s policy on euthanasia and assisted suicide. (DM 5-6) (Confirmed by the Board of Directors on Aug. 21, 2014) [Source]


Conscience should guide doctors at end of life

Canadian Medical Association Journal

Laura Eggertson

All doctors have the right to follow their conscience when deciding whether to assist dying patients physically or to provide them with the means to end their lives  –  within the bounds of legislation, delegates to the Canadian Medical Association’s annual meeting have voted.

As Canada considers changing its laws concerning assisted death, Canada’s doctors considered their stance on the second day of the Canadian Medical Association’s (CMA) 147th annual meeting in Ottawa. In the end, they voted 91% in favour of allowing individual physicians to follow their conscience in deciding whether or not to provide assistance. . . [Full Text]

Doctors vote to ‘follow their conscience’ if assisted suicide becomes legal

Toronto Sun

Jessica Hume

OTTAWA  -  In what appears to be a softening on the issue from Canada’s doctors, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) voted Tuesday to allow doctors to follow their conscience if and when assisted suicide becomes legal in Canada.

Previously, the CMA had opposed the idea of medically assisted euthanasia.

But with recent end-of-life legislation in Quebec, as well as two related bills put forward by Steven Fletcher, a Conservative MP who was paralyzed after a car accident in 1996, Canadians’ views — as well as the country’s laws — could be changing. . . [Full Text]


Freedom from conscience

The Interim


On June 24, Joan Chand’oiseau saw a sign at the front desk of the Westglen Medical Centre in Calgary: “The physician on duty today will not prescribe the birth control pill.” The sign, put up only when Dr. Chantal Barry is the sole physician at the clinic, so offended the would-be birth-controller that she has since made the good doctor’s principled objection her casus belli for a modern-day, social-media crusade. The apparent slight against Chand’oiseau has now garnered national attention, with political candidates dutifully – if pitifully – conforming to the conventional wisdom: that some wrong has been done, and some remedy must be made. – [Full Text]

Defend Integrity

The Catholic Register


Doctors hold a favoured place in society because they are seen as models of compassion and integrity. They are admired as healers and moral leaders, virtuous people, widely respected. If you can’t trust your doctor, who can you trust?

But there is a legitimate concern that a current undertaking by the Ontario College of Physicians could lead to erosion of that stature. The College is conducting a review of its human-rights-code policy amid some pressure to purge religious freedom and conscience rights from everyday medical practice. First step is an ongoing consulting process that is seeking professional and public input.

Here is The Register’s input: leave the current policy alone and do nothing to undermine a doctor’s autonomy to assert their Charter rights of freedom of religion and conscience. [Full Text]