Federal committee wants provincial governments to address most contentious issue
Protection of Conscience Project
A special joint committee of the Canadian House of Commons and Senate has produced a first report concerning legalization of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.
The report recommends that physicians who, for reasons of conscience, are unwilling to kill patients or help them to commit suicide should be compelled to find someone willing to do so. It also recommends that all publicly funded facilities – not excluding objecting denominational institutions – be compelled
to provide euthanasia and assisted suicide. This goes beyond recommendations made by others to the effect that objecting institutions should at least allow an external provider to perform the procedures on their premises. It also ignores the advice of the Canadian Medical Association, which told the Committee that euthanasia and assisted suicide could be provided without suppressing freedom of conscience by forcing objecting physicians to refer for the procedures.
The main report is followed by a dissenting report signed by four Conservative (C) Members of Parliament. With respect to freedom of conscience, the dissenting report erroneously states, “Quebec physicians are free to act according to their conscience,” and recommends Quebec legislation that is purported to accommodate freedom of conscience and religion. The Quebec model has been rejected by many objecting physicians because it requires them to become parties to homicide by referring a patient to an administrator, who will arrange for euthanasia.
A supplementary opinion filed by two New Democrat (NDP) Members of Parliament states that legislation “must ensure that every eligible patient’s right to access medical aid in dying is upheld, and protect any healthcare professional who objects for reasons of conscience from disciplinary action.” However, the authors of the supplementary opinion do not dissent from the main report, so they must mean that objecting physicians should be disciplined if they refuse to arrange for someone to kill patients or help them commit suicide.
In Canada, the federal government has no jurisdiction over the regulation of medical practice or the operation of hospitals. In effect, then, the committee wants the federal government to pressure provincial governments to force unwilling physicians, health care workers and institutions to become parties to homicide and suicide. This is arguably more contentious than the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, so it is politically advantageous for the federal government to pass this particular buck to the provinces.
The federal government has full jurisdiction to prevent people from being forced to become parties to homicide and suicide, and this was recommended to the Committee by the Protection of Conscience Project and others. Instead, the Committee has taken the opposite tack, insisting that the state should impose and enforce an obligation to kill, even upon those who believe that killing people or helping them to commit suicide is gravely wrong.
Sean Murphy, Administrator (firstname.lastname@example.org)