Project Submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario

 Re: Professional Obligations and Human Rights


The focus of this submission about Professional Obligations and Human Rights (POHR) is its demand for “effective referral” – the demand that physicians do what they believe to be wrong – even gravely wrong – even arranging homicide or suicide – and the implied threat that they will be punished if they refuse.

This is a dangerous and extraordinarily authoritarian policy, completely at odds with liberal democratic aspirations and our national traditions. The burden of proof is on the working group to prove beyond doubt that it is justified and that no reasonable alternatives are available. The working group has not done so.

The working group provided no evidence that such a policy is necessary, and there is evidence that it is not. The briefing materials supplied to Council in support of POHR were not only seriously deficient, but erroneous and seriously misleading. “Public sentiment” captured by a random poll does not justify the suppression of fundamental freedoms, and the results of consultation, when carefully considered, suggest that a policy of “effective referral” is highly controversial.

An example of a reasonable alternative is available from the Australian Medical Association – an example not offered to Council members by the working group, which, instead, completely misrepresented AMA policy.

This submission, supported by detailed analysis in the appendices, provides good reason for Council members to doubt that the requirement for effective referral in POHR is necessary or justifiable, or prudent policy. It also provides reason for them to believe that reasonable alternatives can be developed.

Council members unpersuaded by the working group or left in doubt about POHR should give the benefit of doubt to freedom of conscience and refuse to approve the draft policy in its present form. They should direct the working group to collaborate with those opposed to the present draft to produce a broadly acceptable text. If the real goal is to ensure access – not ideologically driven ethical cleansing – there is no reason to demand that physicians do what they believe to be wrong. If the College’s real goal is to ensure access to services – not to punish objecting physicians, or drive them out of family practice, or out of the profession – that goal is best served by connecting patients with physicians willing to help them.


  1. Introduction
  1. Reasons for doubt

III.    POHR in practice

  1. Giving freedom of conscience the benefit of the doubt
  2. Conclusion

Appendix “A”:  The Review Process

Appendix “B”:  Unreliability of Jurisdictional Review by College Working Group

Appendix “C”:  Consultation on Physicians and the Human Rights Code

Appendix “D”: A Case for Evidence-based Policy Making

Appendix “E”: Legal Criticism

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