Freedom of conscience in health care: “an interesting moral swamp”?

Responding to Caplan AL. Whose rights come first: Doctors or patients? Medscape, 5 November, 2019

Sean Murphy*

“Whose rights come first?” asks Professor Arthur Caplan in a recent Medscape column. “Doctors’ or patients?”

“You can’t have physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and social workers saying they are not going to do legally allowed medicine or standard-of-care treatment because it violates their rights,” says Professor Caplan. He does suggest that refusal can be allowed if the objector can find a substitute “and it doesn’t disrupt the ER or the organization of healthcare delivery.” . . . Full text

Nova Scotia hospital forced to provide euthanasia, assisted suicide

Services to be provided in attached building

Arrangement said to preserve Catholic identity

Sean Murphy*

Hospital

St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, will begin providing euthanasia and assisted suicide (EAS). The hospital had refused to provide the services because they were considered to be contrary to the Catholic identity of the hospital. The change of policy appears to have been forced by the threat of a lawsuit by EAS advocates. A campaign to force the hospital to permit EAS services had been ongoing for some time [See 958 days without medical assistance in dying policy, Ban on assisted dying at St. Martha’s hospital should end, says law prof].

St. Martha’s was established by a Catholic religious order, the Sisters of St. Martha. However, in 1996 the order transferred ownership of the hospital to the state. The terms of the transfer were set out in a “Mission Assurance Agreement” that required the state to ensure that “the philosophy, mission and values of St. Martha’s Regional Hospital would remain the same and the hospital would keep its faith-based identity.”1

Notwithstanding the terms of the agreement, from 1996 the hospital was not legally a private or Catholic institution, even though it is popularly known as “Nova Scotia’s only Catholic hospital .”2 EAS advocates argued that state ownership of the hospital made it a state actor obliged to provide euthanasia and assisted suicide.1 Logically, this would also apply to abortion, surgical sterilizations, and other procedures contrary to Catholic teaching.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority states that the change of policy is consistent with “the spirit of the Mission Assurance Agreement,”3 which seems to imply that a way has been found for the hospital to “keep its [Catholic] faith-based identify” while providing euthanasia and assisted suicide.

According to NSHA’s Vice President of Health Services and Chief Nursing Executive Tim Guest, euthanasia and assisted suicide will be provided in the Antigonish Health and Wellness Centre, formerly the Martha Center.4

Built in 1961, the Antigonish Health and Wellness Center is attached to St. Martha’s Regional Hospital. In 2009, still known as the Martha Center, it was described as “primarily a professional building” of 92,000 square feet that had undergone major renovations between 2006 and 2009.5

The Sisters of St. Martha have issued a statement:

The Sisters of St Martha were informed that the Nova Scotia Health Authority continues to uphold our Mission Assurance Agreement, while providing access in Antigonish for individuals who request Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID).

The Nova Scotia Health Authority has assured us that Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) will not take place in St. Martha’s Regional Hospital. We do not own St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, or the building called the Antigonish Health and Wellness Center. . . 6

It is not clear from the statements if assessments and preliminaries for euthanasia/assisted suicide will occur in the hospital building, with actual administration of lethal medication taking place in the Health and Wellness Center.

1. Downie J, GilbertD. Nova Scotia now a leader in medical assistance in dying [Internet]. The Chronicle Herald. 2019 Sep 19.

2. Willick F. Ban on assisted dying at St. Martha’s hospital should end, says law prof [Internet]. CBC News. 2018 Dec 28.

3. Lord R, Quon A. NSHA quietly changes medically assisted dying policy at Catholic hospital [Internet]. Global News. 2019 Sep 18.

4. 989XFM. Nova Scotia Health Authority allows Medically Assisted Death at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital [Internet]. 2019 Sep 19.

5. Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority. Request for Proposal: Radio Frequency (RF) Wireless Site Survey [Internet]. 2009 Apr 17.

6. Boisvert B. Sisters of St. Martha Media Statement [Internet]. 2019 Sep 19.

Maine, assisted suicide, and freedom of conscience

Accommodation of objecting physicians convoluted and unsatisfactory

Sean Murphy*

Introduction

Maine’s Death with Dignity Act1 was signed by the state governor on 12 June, 2019,2 to take effect on 18 September.  By the last week in August, physicians in the state were deeply divided and significant institutional health care providers were expected to opt out.3

In reviewing the Act, the Project focus is on sections relevant to the protection of those who refuse to provide or facilitate suicide for reasons of conscience.  These are convoluted and unsatisfactory.  In brief, the Act

  • imposes obligations on physicians that may be unacceptable to those who unwilling to facilitate assisted suicide,
  •  provides insufficient protection for objecting physicians not employed or by or under contract with an objecting institution,
  •  limits the ability of objecting health care facilities to maintain institutional integrity. . . [Full text]

New Jersey assisted suicide law and freedom of conscience

Lack of clarity on referral  is unsatisfactory

Sean Murphy*

Overview

New Jersey’s Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act1 came into effect on 1 August, 2019.2

The Act permits physician assisted suicide for any resident of New Jersey who is 18 years of age or over, who can make and communicate informed health care decisions, who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and who is likely to die within six months. Physicians assist by providing a prescription for lethal medication.  The patient must make two oral requests for the medication 15 days apart, and a written request.  Two physicians must agree that the patient is decisionally competent and meets the medical criteria.  Additional consultation is required if there is concern about psychological or psychiatric conditions that may impair a patient’s judgement.  . .[Full text]

The RH Act (2012) in brief

Appendix “B” of Philippines RH Act: Rx for controversy

Sean Murphy*

An outline of principal sections of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 relevant to freedom of conscience.

SEC. 1. Title
  • [Not reproduced here]
SEC. 2. Declaration of Policy

The State recognizes and guarantees the human rights of all persons,1 including their right to equality and nondiscrimination of these rights, the right to sustainable human development, the right to health which includes reproductive health,2 the right to education and information, and the right to choose and make decisions3 for themselves in accordance with their religious convictions, ethics, cultural beliefs and the demands of responsible parenthood.4 . . . [Full text]

Philippines population control and management policies

Appendix “A” of Philippines RH Act: Rx for controversy

Sean Murphy*

Establishment of POPCOM

In 1967, President Ferdinand Marcos joined other world leaders in adding his signature to a Declaration on Population that had been made the previous year by representatives of 12 countries (often incorrectly cited in Philippines government documents as “the UN Declaration on Population”).1 Two years later, Executive Order 171 established the Commission on Population (POPCOM), and in 1970 Executive Order 233 empowered POPCOM to direct a national population programme.2

The Population Act

The Population Act [RA 6365] passed in 1971 made family planning part of a strategy for national development. Subsequent Presidential Decrees required increased participation of public and private sectors, private organizations and individuals in the population programme.3

Under President Corazon Aquino (1986 to 1992) the family planning element of the programme was transferred to the Department of Health, where it became part of a five year health plan for improvements in health, nutrition and family planning. According to the Philippines National Statistics Office, the strong influence of the Catholic Church undermined political and financial support for family planning, so that the focus of the health policy was on maternal and child health, not on fertility reduction.4

The Population Management Program

The Ramos administration launched the Philippine Population Management Program (PPMP) in 1993. This was modified in 1999, incorporating “responsible parenthood” as a central theme.3 During the Philippines 12th Congress (2001-2004) policymakers and politicians began to focus on “reproductive health.”5

Responsible Parenthood and Family Planning Program

In 2006 the President ordered the Department of Health, POPCOM and local governments to direct and implement the Responsible Parenthood and Family Planning Program.

The Responsible Parenthood and Natural Family Planning Program’s primary policy objective is to promote natural family planning, birth spacing (three years birth spacing) and breastfeeding which are good for the health of the mother, child, family, and community. While LGUs can promote artificial family planning because of local autonomy, the national government advocates natural family planning.3

Population policy effectiveness and outcomes

The population of the Philippines grew steadily from about 27million in 1960 to over 100 million in 2018. Starting from similar populations in 1960, Thailand, Myanmar and South Korea now have much lower populations (Figure 1) . . . [Full text]

Philippines RH Act: Rx for Controversy

Diatribe by Philippines’ President turns back the clock

Sean Murphy*

Abstract

Turning back the clock

In June, 2019, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte blamed the Catholic Church for obstructing government plans to reduce the country’s birth rate and  population.  “They think that spewing out human beings by the millions is a gift from God,” he claimed, adding that health care workers should resign if they are unwilling to follow government policy on population control for reasons of conscience.

Duterte’s authoritarian diatribe clashes with a ruling of the Supreme Court of the Philippines and turns the clock back to times of harsh and extreme rhetoric when the current law (commonly called the RH Act) was being developed.  The RH Act was the product of over fourteen years of public controversy and political wrangling. It was of concern when it was enacted because it threatened some conscientious objectors with imprisonment and fines. 

In January, 2013, the Project reviewed the Act in detail.  Project criticisms about the law’s suppression of freedom of conscience were validated in April, 2014, when the Supreme Court of the Philippines struck down sections of the law as unconstitutional.

Given the long history of attempts at legislative coercion in the Philippines and President Duterte’s obvious hostility to freedom of conscience and religion in health care, the Project’s 2013 review of the RH Act is here updated and republished.

Assuming that the Philippines government’s concern about population growth in the country is justified, it does not follow that it is best addressed by the kind of state bullying exemplified by President Duterte’s ill-tempered and ill-considered eruption.  Aside from the government’s enormous practical advantage in its control of health care facilities, it has at its disposal all of the legitimate means available to democratic states to accomplish its policy goals.  Not the least of these is persuasive rational argument, an approach fully consistent with the best traditions of liberal democracy, and far less dangerous than state suppression of fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Turning back the clock

A history of coercive legislative measures

Background

The “RH Act” of 2012: General comments

The “RH Act” of 2012: Specific provisions

Freedom of conscience and religion

The Supreme Court weighs in

The way forward

Appendix “A”:  Philippines population control and management policies

Appendix “B”: The “RH Act” (2012)  in brief

Project Comments

Ontario Court of Appeal supports ‘effective referral’ for morally contested procedures, including euthanasia


Court unanimously affirms right of state to compel participation in homicide, suicide, etc.

News Release

Protection of Conscience Project

On 15 May, 2019, three judges of the Ontario Court of Appeal unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that physicians can be forced to facilitate procedures they find morally objectionable, including euthanasia and assisted suicide, by connecting patients with willing providers (“effective referral”).

The Court of Appeal judgement concerned a 2018 decision by the Ontario Divisional Court that had been appealed by the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada and others. The litigation was a response to a compulsory “effective referral” policy imposed by Ontario’s state medical regulator, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

The Protection of Conscience Project, Catholic Civil Rights League and Faith and Freedom Alliance jointly intervened at trial and in the appeal in support of freedom of conscience.

The Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal both acknowledged the joint intervention, but neither considered the arguments it proposed because the case was decided solely on the basis of freedom of religion claims. The Court of Appeal held that the evidence at trial was “insufficient to support an analysis of freedom of conscience.”

“To the extent the individual appellants raise issues of conscience,” said the Court, “they are inextricably grounded in their religious beliefs,” so that, “at its core, the appellants’ claim is grounded in freedom of religion.”[para. 85]

Since the arguments in the Project’s intervention were not addressed at trial or in the appeal, Project Administrator Sean Murphy believes that they are unaffected by the decision.

“The focus of the Court was on religiously-motivated refusal to participate in perceived wrongdoing,” said Murphy. “The analytical framework proposed in the joint intervention could easily have been adapted and applied to that particular form of the exercise of religious freedom. The evidentiary record would have been sufficient for that purpose.”

“However, the Court did not do this, so the arguments still stand, and they can be raised again in another appropriate case.”

The decision demonstrates that the judges uncritically adopted the view of the College that euthanasia, assisted suicide, abortion, contraception, sterilization, sex change surgery, etc. are acceptable forms of medical treatment or health care. They further noted that abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide “carry the stigmatizing legacy of several centuries of criminalization grounded in religious and secular morality.” [para. 123]. On the other hand, they gave no weight to contrary views held by the plaintiffs.

The Court of Appeal also supported the College’s assertion that objecting physicians unwilling to comply with the demand for effective referral could change their scope of practice and move into fields like “sleep medicine, hair restoration, sport and exercise medicine, hernia repair, skin disorders . . . obesity medicine, aviation examinations, travel medicine . . . administrative medicine or surgical assistance.”[para. 71]

The appellants have 60 days to consider and appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

-30-

Contact: Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project
Email: protection@consciencelaws.org

Protection of Conscience at the Ontario Court of Appeal

News Release

Protection of Conscience Project

On 21/21 January the Protection of Conscience Project jointly intervened at the Court of Appeal of Ontario to support freedom of conscience against an oppressive policy of Ontario’s state medical regulator, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO). CPSO policies demand that physicians who object to morally contested procedures – including euthanasia and assisted suicide – must help patients find a colleague willing to provide the contested services.

The Court was hearing the appeal of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies, Canadian Physicians for Life and five individual physicians against an Ontario Divisional Court decision . The Divisional Court had ruled in favour of the CPSO, ruling, in effect, that physicians unwilling to do what they believed to be wrong by providing “effective referrals” were free to move to medical specialties where they would not face conflicts of conscience.

Expert evidence from the appellants indicated that it is extremely difficult for physicians to retrain, and that only 2.5 per cent of all physician positions in Canada would be “safe” for objecting physicians: pathology, hair loss, obesity medicine, sleep disorders and research were among the few available specialities.

The appellants’ submissions were supported by the intervention of the Ontario Medical Association, representing more than 41,000 practising and retired physicians, medical students and residents.

Joining the Project as “Conscience Interveners” were the Catholic Civil Rights League and Faith and Freedom Alliance. The joint submission noted the difference between perfective freedom of conscience (doing what one believes to be good) and preservative freedom of conscience (refusing to do what one believes to be wrong), a distinction hitherto ignored in judicial analysis.

Acknowledging that freedom of conscience can be limited to safeguard the common good, the Conscience Interveners argued that it does not follow that limits on perfective and preservative freedom of conscience can be justified on the same grounds or to the same extent.

The joint intervention drew the Court’s attention to the opinion of Supreme Court Justice Bertha Wilson in R v. Morgentaler, the only extended discussion of freedom of conscience in Canadian jurisprudence. Justice Wilson’s reasoning drew upon the key principle that humans are not a means to an end, and we should never be exploited by someone as a tool to serve someone else’s good – a principle championed by people like Martin Luther King Jr.

This principle – identified as the principle against servitude – was proposed as a principle of fundamental justice, a novel and constitutionally significant assertion. Alternatively, the Conscience Interveners argued that the principle against servitude is so foundational to human rights and freedoms it is difficult to imagine how violating it might be justified.

Forcing someone to participate in perceived wrongdoing demands the submission of intellect, will, and conscience, and violates the principle against servitude by reducing that person to the status of a tool to be used by others. This manner of servitude cannot be reconciled with principles of equality. It is an assault on human dignity that deprives physicians of their essential humanity.

Factum of the Conscience Interveners

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, B’nai Brith, and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms intervened in support of the physician appellants. Dying With Dignity Canada and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association intervened against them.

The Court reserved its decision.

Related: CCRL news release

Contact: Sean Murphy, Administrator, Protection of Conscience Project Email: protection@consciencelaws.org

Court challenge raises issue of “reasonable apprehension of bias”

Sean Murphy*

Documents filed in an important Canadian court case bring into question the value and purpose of “public consultations” held by medical regulators, at least in the province of Ontario.

In March, 2015, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) approved a highly controversial policy, Professional Obligations and Human Rights.  The policy requires physicians  to facilitate services or procedures to which they object for reasons of conscience by making an “effective referral” to a colleague or agency willing to provide the service.  A constitutional challenge to the policy was dismissed by  the Ontario Divisonal Court in 2018.[1] An appeal of that ruling will be heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal on January 21-22, 2019.

Among the thousands of pages filed with the trial court are a number dealing with the public consultation conducted by the CPSO from 10 December, 2014 to 20 February, 2015.  In response to its invitation to stakeholders and the public, the CPSO received 9,262 submissions about the proposal, the great majority of which opposed it.[2]

College officials  finalized the wording of the policy on 19 January, 2015,[3]   a month before the consultation ended; only about 565 submissions would have been received by then.[4]  727 submissions had been received  by the time the policy was sent to the Executive Committee on 28 January,[5]  which promptly endorsed it and forwarded it to the College Council for final approval.[6]

According to the briefing note supplied to the Council, by 11 February, 2015 the College had received 3,105 submissions.[7]  Thus, the final version of the policy was written and approved by the College Executive before about  90% of the submissions in the second consultation had been received.

Submissions received by CPSO from 10 Dec 2014 to 20 Feb 2015

During the first 40 days ending 11 February, the College received an average of about 18 submissions per day.  Assuming someone spent eight full hours every working day reading the submissions, about 22 minutes could have been devoted to each.  Three staff members dedicated to the task could have inceased this average to about an hour, so the first 700 submissions could conceivably have received appropriate attention.

Time available for analysis of submissions

However, this seems unlikely in the case of more than 8,000 submissions received later.

By 11 February about 183 submissions were arriving at the College every day, increasing to about 684 daily in the last ten days of the consultation – one every two minutes.   A College staffer working eight hours daily without a break could have spent no more than about two minutes on each submission, and only about one minute on each of those received in the last ten days  – over 65% of the total.

A minute or two was likely sufficient if College officials deemed consultation results irrelevant because they had already decided the outcome.  This conclusion is consistent with the finalization and approval of the policy  by the six member College Executive (which included the Chair of the  working group that wrote it [8]).  To do this weeks before the consultation closed was contrary to normal practice.  CPSO policy manager Andréa Foti stated that working groups submit revised drafts to the Executive Committee  after public consultations close[9] – not before.

One would expect government agencies that invite submissions on important legal and public policy issues would allow sufficient time to review and analyse all of the feedback received before making decisions. The CPSO’s failure to do so does not reflect institutional respect for thousands of individuals and groups who responded in good faith to its invitation to comment on the draft policy.  Rather, such conduct invites a reasonable apprehension of bias that is unacceptable in the administration of public institutions.

1. The Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada v. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, 2018 ONSC 579 (Can LII)  [CMDS v CPSO].

2. CMDS v CPSO, supra note 1  (Respondent’s Application Record, Volume 1, Tab 1, Affidavit of Andréa Foti [Foti] at para 121.

3.    Foti, supra note 2 at para 133.

4. Estimated daily average based on the total received by 28 January (727).

5. CMDS v CPSO, supra note 1  (Respondent’s Application Record, Volume 4, Tab WW, Exhibit “WW” attached to the Affidavit of Andréa Foti: Executive Committee Briefing Note (February, 2015) (CPSO Exhibit WW) at 1724.

6. CMDS v CPSO, supra note 1  (Respondent’s Application Record, Volume 4, Tab XX, Exhibit “XX” attached to the Affidavit of Andréa Foti: Proceedings of the Executive Committee – Minutes – 3 February, 2015) (CPSO Exhibit XX) at 1746-1748.

7. “Council Briefing Note: Professional Obligations and Human Rights – Consultation Report & Revised Draft Policy (For Decision)” [CPSO Briefing Note 2015].  In College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, “Annual Meeting of Council, March 6, 2015” at 61.

8. Dr. Marc Gabel. See CPSO Exhibit WW, supra note 4 at 1722 (note 1), and CPSO Exhibit XX, supra note 5 at 1746.

9. Foti, supra note 2 at para 36.