Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code:
Ontario Human Rights Commission attempts to suppress freedom of
Submission re: Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code
Catholic Organization for Life and Family
September 10, 2008
Reproduced with permission
Dr. Preston Zuliani, President
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO)
80 College Street
September 10, 2008
Re: Response to the draft CPSO policy entitled "Physicians and the
OntarioHuman Rights Code"
Dear Dr. Zuliani;
In response to your invitation for public input, the Catholic
Organization for Life and Family (COLF) is submitting its comments on your
draft policy entitled "Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code".
COLF is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote
respect for human life and dignity and the essential role of the family. It
is co-sponsored by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the
Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus.
Two main concerns arise for COLF in this draft policy. First, COLF is
concerned about the policy's implicit expectations upon physicians with
respect to engaging in a medical act to which they may have a conscientious
objection. Second, we are concerned about the policy's seeming redefinition
and narrowing of the role of the physician vis-Ã -vis the patient and within
The policy states that "Physicians should be aware that decisions to
restrict medical services offered, to accept individuals as patients or to
end physician-patient relationships that are based on moral or religious
belief may contravene the Code, and/or constitute professional misconduct."
Thus, the policy clearly articulates that some conscientious objections may
not be tolerated by the CPSO.
The College gives only general guidance as to the criteria it will
consider in examining specific cases: the extent to which the physician has
communicated clearly with the patient, treated the patient with respect, and
given information about accessing another physician. The guidance is not
nearly specific enough, and cannot but leave physicians confused and
uncertain, placing a chill on their freedom to exercise conscientious
Moreover, one of the criteria that is supposed to enable conscientious
objection in fact does the opposite, as it requires doctors to at least
indirectly violate their conscience. The requirement that a physician must
provide information about access to another physician who would provide the
service is unacceptable, because it requires the physician to cooperate with
the procuring of a service that he cannot morally support.
To help dispel this uncertainty, COLF invites the CPSO to include in
their draft a specific provision which would state that (a) that the CPSO
will not discriminate against physicians who oppose procedures such as
abortion, contraception (including the birth control pill and the
morning-after pill) and the use of certain assisted reproductive
technologies; (b) that the CPSO will uphold the rights of physicians to
exercise their conscientious objection to such medical acts, and; (c) that
the CPSO will not require doctors to refer patients, or potential patients,
to other doctors for such medical acts.
An example that may be useful is the recent support for the protection of
the freedom of conscience of physicians in the United States, where the
government drafted a bill that would protect physicians from discrimination
for refusing to provide or refer for abortion.
The CPSO policy should also clearly specify the definitions of key terms
such as "clear" and "prompt" communication and "religious beliefs", and
provide more guidance, including situational examples, as to the statements
that include these phrases.
Of concern especially is the statement that "physicians should not
express personal judgments about the beliefs, lifestyle, identity or
characteristics of the patient or potential patient". This very general and
vague prohibition could be understood as having the serious consequence of
tending towards a transformation of physicians into silent technicians who
place aside their ethics and simply deliver requested services to their
Such an understanding of the physician would do a great disservice to the
medical profession and to society in general. The role of the physician has
always been understood in a holistic way to include care for the patient's
overall well-being, including his or her moral and psychological health. To
prevent our doctors from commenting on a patient's "lifestyle" is to take a
grave step away from the "never do harm" of the Hippocratic Oath and towards
the philosophy of the marketplace, where "the customer is always right".
This would be a dangerous development because in health-related matters the
customer is sometimes mistaken, and could greatly benefit from the sound
advice and guidance of a physician. Indeed, many patients expect and rely on
such medical and ethical guidance from their doctors.
Thank you for providing an opportunity for the public to comment on your
draft policy, which will affect not only Ontario physicians but also society