Reproduced with permission
Should the government be able to force a person to do something that she or he considers to be fundamentally wrong?
Dictatorships say yes, but free countries like Canada have always said no.
For example, those who believe that killing another person is never justified, not even in a war against an invading foreign power, are exempted from mandatory military service.
Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice is considering freedom of conscience this week, in a court action brought by the Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS) against the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO).
The college has adopted policies that require doctors to assist patients who want to commit suicide, and to provide abortions, even if those services conflict with a doctor’s conscience or ethics. The CPSO requires doctors to provide these services themselves, or provide an “effective referral” to another doctor.
There is no shortage of doctors who are willing to do abortions, and doctors willing to assist people who want to commit suicide. So these college policies are driven by ideology, not by any practical need.
The CPSO argues that it’s no big deal for doctors to refer patients for a service that the doctor sees as wrong, and that this is a fair compromise for objecting doctors. However, when the college prohibits doctors from mutilating the genitals of young girls (called “female circumcision” in some cultures), the college also bans referring for this medical service. Why? Because referring a patient (or the parents of a young girl) to another doctor amounts to active participation. It’s like saying, “I won’t take part in robbing the bank, but I will provide the robber with information as to where he can get his gun.”
The college argues that the rights of patients are in conflict with doctors’ freedom of conscience, and that patients’ interests should prevail over constitutional rights. But in fact, Canadian courts have repeatedly ruled that patients do not have a constitutional right to any particular medical procedure. In one Ontario case, a man with liver cancer was told he had eight months to live. Adolfo Flora then spent $450,000 in the U.K. for a living-related liver transplantation, which saved his life.
The government refused to reimburse the $450,000, insisting that the government has the sole right to determine what services would or would not be provided by its health-care monopoly. The court agreed, and ruled against Flora.
In Ontario and other provinces, it’s illegal for patients to buy private health insurance and private medical services. When Canadians have no right to access essential health services outside of the government’s monopoly, it makes no sense to argue that patients have a “right” to force unwilling doctors to do what those doctors consider to be wrong.
But even if the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provided patients with a right to health care, this would still not justify violating the Charter-protected freedom of conscience that doctors — and all citizens of a free society — enjoy.