Freedom of conscience for Ontario physicians a prominent concern

Sean Murphy*

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.

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