Protection of Conscience Project
In light of the assisted suicide/euthanasia bill introduced by the government of Canada (Bill C-14),1 it is necessary to emphatically reaffirm that conscientious refusal to kill people is a manifestation of essential humanity that deserves the protection of law.
Notwithstanding the assurances of Canada’s Minister of Health,2 Bill C-14 does not provide that protection. The government is deliberately ignoring the ongoing coercion of health care providers to compel participation in euthanasia, and Bill C-14 will allow coercion to continue.
The bill follows upon a report from a parliamentary Special Joint Committee formed to advise the government on a legislative response to the Supreme Court ruling in Carter v. Canada.3 Bill C-14 does not incorporate the Committee’s more radical recommendations. It does not, for example, make euthanasia and assisted suicide available as therapies for mental illness.4
However, it does indicate that the government intends to pursue this and other Committee recommendations.5 Two of them assert the authority of the state to command the use of deadly force: not merely to authorize it, but to command it.
The Special Joint Committee recommended that physicians unwilling to kill patients or help them commit suicide should be forced to find someone willing to do so. It also recommended that publicly funded facilities, like hospices and hospitals, should be forced to kill patients or help them commit suicide, even if groups operating the facilities object.6
The federal government cannot do this because the regulation of health professions and health care institutions is within provincial jurisdiction. Hence, the Committee urged the federal government to “work with the provinces” to implement this coercive regime.6 Translation: get willing hands in the provinces to do the dirty work of coercion – and take the heat for it.
Now, the federal government can prevent such coercion because it has exclusive jurisdiction in criminal law. It can enact a law to prevent powerful groups, professions, or state institutions from forcing people to be parties to homicide and suicide. It can prevent those in power from punishing health care providers who refuse to arrange for their patients to be killed or helped commit suicide.
The federal government can do this, but Bill C-14 does not do it. Instead, it makes possible the coercive regime recommended by the Special Joint Committee.
And this is deliberate, because the Prime Minister and Minister of Health know full well that coercion and intimidation to force participation in euthanasia and assisted suicide are already occurring in Canada, notably in Quebec7,8,9,10 and Ontario.11 ,Their bill “works with” willing hands in Ontario and Quebec by allowing coercion and intimidation to continue – and to spread.
It is true that the bill’s preamble states that the government will “respect the personal convictions of health care providers.”
But – aside from the fact that preambles have no legal effect12 – what is that worth?
After all, the Special Joint Committee claimed that respect for freedom of conscience is exemplified by their recommendation that, “at a minimum,” objecting physicians should be forced to find colleagues willing to kill their patients.6 Behind this Orwellian perversion lies the Committee’s more astonishing premise: that the state can legitimately order people to become parties to homicide and suicide, and punish them if they refuse.
That is outrageous, indefensible and dangerous. It is not a mere “limitation” of fundamental freedoms, but an egregious attack on them. It is a grave violation of human dignity that deserves only the utter contempt of a free people.
The Prime Minister and a great many people in positions of power and influence need to be reminded of this as we approach the deadline for the proclamation of Bill C-14: the anniversary of the Allied landings at Normandy.
Whatever else it might decide about euthanasia and assisted suicide, parliament should make it the law of the land that no one and no institution in Canada can be forced to be a party to homicide or suicide, and no one will be punished or disadvantaged for refusing to do so.”13
S.T. Murphy, Administrator
1. Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying) (Accessed 2016-04-20) (Hereinafter “Bill C-14”).
2. “’Under this bill, no health care provider will be required to provide medical assistance in dying,’” Health Minister Jane Philpott told reporters Thursday. Laucius, J. “Groups worry new assisted-dying legislation doesn’t protect physicians’ consciences.” Ottawa Citizen, 14 April, 2016 (Accessed 2016-04-14) Emphasis added. The statement does not mean that health care providers cannot be forced to become parties to homicide or suicide.
3. Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5 (Accessed 2015-06-27)
4. Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centred Approach. Report of the Special Joint Committee on Physician Assisted Dying (February, 2016) (Hereinafter “SJC Report”) p. 13-14; Recommendations 3,4, p. 45. (Accessed 2016-03-09).
7. Supreme Court of Canada, 385591, Lee Carter, et al. v. Attorney General of Canada, et al. (British Columbia) (Civil) (By Leave): Robert W. Staley (Counsel for the Catholic Civil Rights League, Faith and Freedom Alliance, and Protection of Conscience Project) Oral Submission, [455:48/491:20].
8. Canadian Press, “Gaétan Barrette insists dying patients must get help to ease suffering.” CBC News, 2 September, 2016 (Accessed 2016-04-20).
9. Robert Y. “L’objection de conscience.” Collège des médecins du Québec, 10 November, 2015. (Accessed 2016-04-20).
10. The Canadian Press, “Justin Trudeau, Philippe Couillard hail era of co-operation after meeting in Quebec City: Prime Minister praises Quebec’s approach on controversial topic of medically-assisted deaths.” CBC News, 11 December, 2015 (Accessed 2016-04-15).
11. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, Interim Guidance on Physician Assisted Death (January, 2016) (Accessed 2016-04-15).
12. University of Alberta, Centre for Constitutional Studies, The Constitution: Preamble (Accessed 2016-04-15).
Moral imperialism by state authorities in Canada is beginning to take its toll. A physician in Strathroy, Ontario, has publicly announced that she will not be renewing her licence to practise medicine because the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario demands that she must either kill patients or help them commit suicide, or arrange for someone else to do so.
Writing in the professional journal Canadian Family Physician in response to an article by Dr. Stephen Genuis (Emerging assault on freedom of conscience), Dr. Nancy Naylor thanked him for eloquently expressing her thoughts. She states that mandatory referral for euthanasia or assisted suicide is “an assault on my integrity and ethics as a physician.”
Dr. Naylor has been a family physician for 37 years and has been exclusively providing palliative care for the past three years.
“I have no wish to stop,” she writes. “But I will not be told that I must go against my moral conscience to provide standard of care.”
While not explicit in the language of the legislation, new physician-assisted dying laws would include the creation of a centralized referral mechanism for doctors and nurse practitioners who refuse to help a patient end their own life.
Dr. Jeff Blackmer, vice-president of medical professionalism with Canadian Medical Association, said the government has assured the medical professional community the database – which could be as simple as a toll-free number – will connect patients with willing providers. . . [Full text]
Assisted dying legislation tabled Thursday does not compel health care providers to help patients die, but some are worried the proposed bill won’t legally protect physicians who oppose the practice.
Medical professionals who provide assisted death would no longer have to fear criminal prosecution under the proposed legislation. On the other side, those who object to participating will not be forced to offer the service.
“Under this bill, no health care provider will be required to provide medical assistance in dying,” Health Minister Jane Philpott told reporters Thursday.
But some argue these assurances won’t offer legal protection to health care workers whose consciences won’t allow them to participate in assisted death. . . [Full text]
For Immediate Distribution
Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience
OTTAWA, ONT. (April 14, 2016) – The Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience recognizes that federal legislation tabled today on physician-assisted death has rejected disturbing recommendations from the parliamentary joint committee regarding access to assisted suicide.
However, the coalition, which represents more than 100 healthcare facilities (with almost 18,000 care beds and 60,000 staff) and more than 5,000 physicians across Canada, is concerned that the bill doesn’t protect the conscience rights of health care workers or facilities that morally object to performing or referring for what is being referred to as “medically assisted death.”
By making no reference to conscience rights in the legislation, it appears that the federal government intends to leave it up to individual provincial and territorial governments to determine whether to protect health care workers and institutions and how to do so.
“No other foreign jurisdiction in the world that has legalized euthanasia/assisted suicide forces health care workers, hospitals, nursing homes or hospices to act against their conscience or mission and values,” says Larry Worthen, Coalition member and Executive Director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada. “These conscience rights must be preserved. As we review this legislation, we will continue to advocate for the vulnerable and for conscience protection, which is provided in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
A strong majority of Canadians are on side with the coalition’s beliefs on conscience protection. A recent Nanos Research poll found that 75% of Canadians agreed that doctors “should be able to opt out of offering assisted dying,” compared with 21% who disagreed.
Members of the coalition fully support the right people clearly have to accept, to refuse and/ or discontinue the use of life-sustaining treatment and to allow death to occur. They also hold strong moral convictions that it is never justified for a physician to help take a patient’s life, under any circumstances.
“Our health care workers journey with those who are sick and suffering each day. We will continue to do this in a caring and compassionate way,” Worthen says. “We help patients at the end of life, what we object to is ending their life.”
The coalition contends Canada can significantly reduce the number of people who see death as the only possible option to end their suffering by improving medical and social services.
“Our worth as a society is measured by the support we give to the vulnerable,” said says Worthen. “We need increased access to palliative care, chronic disease and mental health services to help individuals who are suffering across the country.”
The coalition continues to urge Canadians with concerns about assisted suicide legislation to visit CanadiansforConscience.ca where they can communicate directly with their elected members of provincial or federal parliament.
The coalition represents several like-minded organizations committed to protecting conscience rights for health practitioners and institutions. Members of the coalition include the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies, the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, Canadian Physicians for Life and the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada.
For more information, please contact:
Media Relations, Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience
About The Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience:
The Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience represents a group of like-minded organizations, including representing more than 110 healthcare facilities (with almost 18,000 care beds and 60,000 staff) and more than 5,000 physicians across Canada , that are committed to protecting conscience rights for faith-based health practitioners and facilities. We were brought together by a common mission to respect the sanctity of human life, to protect the vulnerable and to promote the ability of individuals and institutions to provide health care without having to compromise their moral convictions.
To learn more, visit CanadiansforConscience.ca
Canadian Family Physician
Stephen J. Genuis
Discussion on physician autonomy at the 2014 and 2015 Canadian Medical Association (CMA) annual meetings highlighted an emerging issue of enormous importance: the contentious matter of freedom of conscience (FOC) within clinical practice. In 2014, a motion was passed by delegates to CMA’s General Council,and affirmed by the Board of Directors, supporting the right of all physicians, within the bounds of existing legislation, to follow their conscience with regard to providing medical aid in dying. The overwhelming sentiment among those in attendance was that physicians should retain the right to choose when it comes to matters of conscience related to end-of-life intervention. Support for doctors refusing to engage in care that clashes with their beliefs was reaffirmed in 2015. However, a registrar from a provincial college of physicians and surgeons is reported to have a differing perspective, stating “Patient rights trump our rights. Patient needs trump our needs.1
So, do the personal wishes of doctors hold much sway in Canadian society, where physicians are increasingly perceived as publicly funded service providers? Should the colleges of physicians and surgeons have the power to remove competent physicians who refuse to violate their own conscience?
And what about FOC in a range of other thorny medical situations unrelated to physician-assisted dying?
Genuis SJ. Emerging assault on freedom of conscience. Canadian Family Physician April 2016 vol. 62 no. 4 293-296 [Full text]
Ewan C. Goligher
Canadian policy makers have recently proposed to require all doctors to provide an effective referral for physician-assisted death (PAD) upon the patient’s request. Forcing doctors to knowingly send their patient to another doctor willing to cause the patient’s death will seriously compromise the moral integrity of conscientiously objecting doctors and risks undermining the quality of patient care. To understand the position of conscientiously objecting doctors, consider the following questions.
1. Should doctors provide physician-assisted death merely because it is legal?
2. Must all doctors accept the assumptions underpinning the claim that physician-assisted death is good medical care?
3. If physician-assisted death remained illegal, would doctors be legally liable for making an effective referral?
4. Does the Charter right of Freedom of Conscience apply to doctors?
5. How does respect for conscientious objection affect patient care?
6. Will respect for conscientious objection obstruct access to physician-assisted death?
(For the author’s answers, see the full text)
In the course of a morning homily discussing the martyrdom of St. Stephen in Jerusalem,1 Pope Francis linked the “cruel persecutions” of early Christians with the Easter Sunday mass murder of Pakistani Christians three weeks ago by Taliban killers.
However, the Pope also identified “another kind of persecution that is not often spoken about.” In addition to the “clear, explicit type of persecution” like the slaughter of Christians who profess their belief in Jesus Christ, there is a second kind, he said, one ““disguised as culture, disguised as modernity, disguised as progress.”
“It is a kind of — I would say somewhat ironically — polite persecution.”
This “polite persecution” is not against those who merely profess Christian beliefs, he explained, but against those who want “to demonstrate the values of the Son of God.” This “polite persecution” does not use bombs or guns, but the force of law.
“We see every day,” said the Pope, “that the powerful make laws that force people to take this path, and a nation that does not follow this modern collection of laws, or at least that does not want to have them in its legislation, is accused, is politely persecuted.”
This denial of freedom includes the legal suppression of conscientious objection, now notably advocated by powerful interests and some politicians in Canada who want to force participation of even objecting health care workers and institutions in euthanasia and assisted suicide.
“God made us free, but this kind of persecution takes away freedom!”
Canadian health care workers who refuse to provide or facilitate homicide or suicide now face the kind of threats described by Pope Francis,2 who explained how “polite persecution” works.
“[I]f you don’t do this, you will be punished: you’ll lose your job and many things or you’ll be set aside.”
Calling this “the persecution of the world,” the Pope warned that its leader is the one identified by Jesus Christ as “the prince of this world” (i.e., Satan).
“The prince of this world” can be recognized, warned Pope Francis, “when the powerful want to impose attitudes, laws against the dignity of the children of God, persecute them and oppose God the Creator: it is the great apostasy.”
The Christian’s path, he concluded, is always beset by these two kinds of persecution that bring “much suffering,” so Christians must be confident in the presence of Jesus “with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.”
2. See, for example, Attaran A. “Doctors can’t refuse to help a patient die – no matter what they say.” iPolitics, 13 November, 2015 (Accessed 2015-11-24). In response, see Murphy S., “Amir Attaran and the Elves.” Protection of Conscience Project, 15 November, 2015;
Isla Binnie, Steve Scherer
ROME (Reuters) – Women’s rights are being violated in Italy by the serious difficulties they face in trying to obtain safe abortions due to many doctors refusing to carry out the procedure, the Council of Europe said on Monday.
Terminating pregnancies has been legal in Italy since 1978, but the council’s social rights committee found that the situation in Italy violated both the women’s right to protection of health and the doctors’ right to dignity at work.
In a significant number of Italian hospitals, even if a gynecology unit exists, there are no or very few doctors who do not object to performing abortions, the committee said. . . [Full text]