Catholic Civil Rights League
The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) is pleased to provide this submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) regarding the review of the current policy Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code. The CCRL made a previous submission in 2008 prior to the adoption of the current policy. We make this submission on behalf of our membership nationally, particularly for those in Ontario.
Our concern today is similar to that of 6 years ago. We strongly advocate for the protection of the Charter right of freedom of conscience and religion for all Canadians, including physicians in the daily routine of their care to patients and in the overall forming of their individual medical practices. We believe this is key to the maintenance and growth of our social fabric in the province of Ontario and all of Canada. Your policy should reflect a true pluralistic society so as to avoid a climate for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination based on religious and moral beliefs and the exercise of one’s conscience.
The CCRL acknowledges the assertion in the current policy which states that, “There is no hierarchy of rights in the Charter; freedom of religion and conscience, and equality rights are of equal importance.” We also acknowledge that many citizens in Ontario subscribe to a belief in secular humanism, which often demands the relegating of issues informed by religion as private matters, which ought not be expressed or acted on in the public square. We would like to remind the CPSO that the Charter itself does not mention “freedom of religion” independent of “freedom of conscience and religion”, so that the right of one’s freedom of conscience informed by a religion, a philosophical system or otherwise is crucial regardless of society’s current views regarding religion.
The current CPSO policy also states that:
The balancing of rights must be done in context. In relation to freedom of religion specifically, Courts will consider how directly the act in question interferes with a core religious belief. Courts will seek to determine whether the act interferes with the religious belief in a ‘manner that is more than trivial or insubstantial.’ The more indirect the impact on a religious belief, the more likely Courts are to find that the freedom of religion should be limited.
The CCRL submits that issues pertaining to the sanctity of life from conception until natural death are at the core of Catholic beliefs. Such beliefs are also based in reason and medical science. To the Catholic physician, this would impact the providing of prescriptions of birth control pills and abortifacients and the performing of an abortion or its procural unless the mother’s life is in imminent threat. But such understandings go beyond these areas, and touch upon all aspects of medical care, whether for the disabled, the elderly, or those with mental afflictions. We assure the CPSO that under no circumstances would any of the aforementioned practices be considered ‘trivial or insubstantial’.
Secondly, we submit that the College must ensure that a physician’s conscience rights must be observed at first instance, especially given that there are numerous procedures which may cause such physicians, religious or otherwise, difficulty, regardless of their availability under the publicly funded system. In keeping with our mandate to educate the public and defend and promote the Catholic perspective, we at the CCRL submit that a physician must have the right to carry out their duties in line with their respective consciences.
We submit that it would be offensive and a fundamental injustice to human dignity to require people to support, facilitate or participate in what they perceive to be wrongful acts. The more serious the wrongdoing, the graver the injustice and offence that would occur. We urge the College to resist any policy revision to establish the principle that people can be compelled to do what they believe to be wrong – or face the risk of sanction if they refuse. The College should avoid any suggestion that physicians be required to observe a ‘duty to do what is wrong’ in medical practice.
In referring to the ‘balancing of rights’ referred to in the above excerpt from the 2008 policy, the CCRL submits that the current policy attempts to maintain this balance outlined in the Charter rights of conscience and religion and the Ontario Human Rights Code. Using the previous listed examples of practices that would be morally objectionable to a serious Catholic physician, the number of said physicians is minute in comparison to those who would have no objection whatsoever. If a lack of balance exists, it is surely found in the vast difference between physicians who choose to conscientiously dissent versus those who do not. A member of the public in Ontario has ample resources and options available for recourse to a physician to perform publicly funded services, without violating the conscience rights of a physician who may object.
With this submission, we at the CCRL sincerely hope that the September 2008 CPSO policy regarding Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code is not altered in a manner that would diminish a physician’s right to freedom of conscious and religion in carrying out his or her duties according to the professional standards and guidelines of the CPSO. The medical profession, as with any grouping of individuals is not truly free to live and free to grow if its members are not able to govern their actions in accordance with their individual consciences whether informed by moral and religious beliefs or otherwise. In no way is this subtractive to the social fabric of our society, rather it greatly contributes to a true pluralist and diverse population. We should be allowed to agree or to disagree at times, always respectful of differences especially when they concern aspects of one’s moral or religious core, in no way trivial, but rather at the basis of a well-developed, civil society.