Ontario Court of Appeal supports ‘effective referral’ for morally contested procedures, including euthanasia


Court unanimously affirms right of state to compel participation in homicide, suicide, etc.

News Release

Protection of Conscience Project

On 15 May, 2019, three judges of the Ontario Court of Appeal unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that physicians can be forced to facilitate procedures they find morally objectionable, including euthanasia and assisted suicide, by connecting patients with willing providers (“effective referral”).

The Court of Appeal judgement concerned a 2018 decision by the Ontario Divisional Court that had been appealed by the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada and others. The litigation was a response to a compulsory “effective referral” policy imposed by Ontario’s state medical regulator, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

The Protection of Conscience Project, Catholic Civil Rights League and Faith and Freedom Alliance jointly intervened at trial and in the appeal in support of freedom of conscience.

The Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal both acknowledged the joint intervention, but neither considered the arguments it proposed because the case was decided solely on the basis of freedom of religion claims. The Court of Appeal held that the evidence at trial was “insufficient to support an analysis of freedom of conscience.”

“To the extent the individual appellants raise issues of conscience,” said the Court, “they are inextricably grounded in their religious beliefs,” so that, “at its core, the appellants’ claim is grounded in freedom of religion.”[para. 85]

Since the arguments in the Project’s intervention were not addressed at trial or in the appeal, Project Administrator Sean Murphy believes that they are unaffected by the decision.

“The focus of the Court was on religiously-motivated refusal to participate in perceived wrongdoing,” said Murphy. “The analytical framework proposed in the joint intervention could easily have been adapted and applied to that particular form of the exercise of religious freedom. The evidentiary record would have been sufficient for that purpose.”

“However, the Court did not do this, so the arguments still stand, and they can be raised again in another appropriate case.”

The decision demonstrates that the judges uncritically adopted the view of the College that euthanasia, assisted suicide, abortion, contraception, sterilization, sex change surgery, etc. are acceptable forms of medical treatment or health care. They further noted that abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide “carry the stigmatizing legacy of several centuries of criminalization grounded in religious and secular morality.” [para. 123]. On the other hand, they gave no weight to contrary views held by the plaintiffs.

The Court of Appeal also supported the College’s assertion that objecting physicians unwilling to comply with the demand for effective referral could change their scope of practice and move into fields like “sleep medicine, hair restoration, sport and exercise medicine, hernia repair, skin disorders . . . obesity medicine, aviation examinations, travel medicine . . . administrative medicine or surgical assistance.”[para. 71]

The appellants have 60 days to consider and appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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Contact: Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project
Email: protection@consciencelaws.org

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