A Warning from Canada on Assisted Suicide: Physicians’ Conscience Rights at Stake


Lynn Wardle

Historically, assisted suicide (aiding a person to take his or her own life) was prohibited by the common law in Canada, as in all common law jurisdictions. Indeed, at common law suicide resulted in forfeiture of all goods and chattels of the suicide victim to the state.  A person who assisted a person to commit suicide also committed a felony.

Prohibitions against attempting suicide and assisting suicide were codified in Canada in 1892.  The attempting suicide law was challenged as infringing upon the protection for individual liberty in section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but the criminal prohibition against assisted suicide was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General) in 1993.

The statutory prohibition of attempting suicide was repealed in Canada in 1972.  However, the criminal prohibition against assisting a person to commit suicide remained in Canada.

In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the prohibition of medical assistance in dying violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5.  Now Parliament is working to codify the Carter ruling.

A special parliamentary committee was appointed to consider how to reform the law.  On February 25, 2016, the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying delivered to the Parliament of Canada its Report on “Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centred Approach, February 2016, 42nd Parliament, 1st Session.”

The Report contains 21 recommendations.  Some of them are unobjectionable, but some are troubling to some thoughtful observers and medical ethicists, and a few are dangerously disrespectful of the rights and consciences of marginalized populations. The Report evades, brushes aside, or bulldozes over some very serious ethical issues. . . [Full text]


The BMA’s guidance on conscientious objection may be contrary to human rights law

J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2015-103222

John Olusegun Adenitire


It is argued that the current policy of the British Medical Association (BMA) on conscientious objection is not aligned with recent human rights developments. These grant a right to conscientious objection to doctors in many more circumstances than the very few recognised by the BMA. However, this wide-ranging right may be overridden if the refusal to accommodate the conscientious objection is proportionate. It is shown that it is very likely that it is lawful to refuse to accommodate conscientious objections that would result in discrimination of protected groups. It is still uncertain, however, in what particular circumstances the objection may be lawfully refused, if it poses risks to the health and safety of patients. The BMA’s policy has not caught up with these human rights developments and ought to be changed. [Full text]



Some Quebec doctors let suicide victims die though treatment was available: college

National Post

Graeme Hamilton

MONTREAL  –  Quebec’s College of Physicians has issued an ethics bulletin to its members after learning that some doctors were allowing suicide victims to die when life-saving treatment was available.

The bulletin says the college learned last fall that, “in some Quebec hospitals, some people who had attempted to end their lives through poisoning were not resuscitated when, in the opinion of certain experts, a treatment spread out over a few days could have saved them with no, or almost no, aftereffects.”

It goes on to spell out a physician’s ethical and legal duty to provide care, even to patients seeking to end their own lives.

Yves Robert, the college’s secretary, told the National Post that an unspecified number of doctors were interpreting suicide attempts as an implicit refusal of treatment. They “refused to provide the antidote that could have saved a life. This was the real ethical issue,” he said. . . [Full text]


New Belgian law aims to force doctors into euthanasia

 LifeSite News

Jeanne Smits

BRUSSELS, March 17, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – A handful of Belgian lawmakers are trying to obtain a radical change to the rules governing euthanasia in the country, where so-called “mercy-killing” has been legal since 2002.

Not content with one of the most liberal euthanasia laws in the world, the socialist representatives now want to oblige doctors who have conscientious objections to killing their patients asking for euthanasia, to refer them to a doctor who is prepared to do so. This has been interpreted as a sort of new obligation to accede to all euthanasia requests within a very short period of time, and the wording of the proposed legislation supports this. The changes also include enhanced rights attached to a patient’s “living will” as well as the negation of the right to conscientious objection for institutions. . . [Full text]


Doctor-assisted dying: Why religious conscience must be part of the debate

The Globe and Mail

Lorna Dueck

The competing rights of freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and access to physician-assisted death are at an impasse in Canada. When the Supreme Court last year struck down Criminal Code prohibitions on doctor-assisted death, the issue of conscience rights jumped urgently into the national discussion. A religiously informed conscience complicates things further, and thousands of health-care professionals and hundreds of religiously based health-care institutions are demanding that their Charter rights be protected.

If the recommendations from the parliamentary committee for new legislation are accepted and approved by the June 6 deadline, Canada would be by far the most liberal country in the world for medical assistance in dying. It would also become the most repressive on conscience rights, because the committee recommended that conscientious objectors refer death-seeking patients to another doctor or health-care facility – something that many people informed by a sense of duty to God and neighbour cannot do. . . [Full text]


The forgotten Australian prisoners of war experimented on by the Nazis

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

The Body Sphere

Amanda Smith

Not all Nazi human experimentations ended with death. Some Australian soldiers may have suffered for years after being guinea pigs for Nazi scientists. Amanda Smith tells their story.

Some of the cruellest, vilest things humans do to each other are done in wartime.

During the Second World War, one of the most shocking things that occurred – in a long list of shocking things – was human medical experimentation in Nazi concentration camps.

Until now, however, it wasn’t known that the Nazis also experimented on Australian POWs.

Konrad Kwiet is the resident historian at the Sydney Jewish Museum. He’s researching the experiments alongside surgeon and academic George Weisz. . . [Full text]


Human medical experiments

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

The Body Sphere

Amanda Smith

In 1891, Swedish physician Carl Janson was investigating black smallpox pus. “Calves were only obtainable at considerable cost”, he noted. So instead he experimented on 14 children from an orphanage.

Vulnerable people continued to be used as medical guinea pigs into the 20th century.

Most sinister was the Nazi program, including the little-known story of 5 Australian POWs in Crete who were subject to experimentation without their consent.

The methods of Third Reich doctors were inhumane, so is it ethical to use data from Nazi medical experiments?  . . . [Full text]


MPs launch new Conscience Objection Bill


March 2nd 2016 marked 100 years since the first inclusive right of conscientious objection became law in the United Kingdom.

To commemorate the centenary, the NGO Conscience: Taxes for Peace not War, hosted a discussion evening featuring MPs from three different parties and Sir Richard Jolly, a former United Nations Assistant Secretary General.

It also served as the launch of the ‘Taxes for Peace Bill’ legislation which would bring conscientious objection into the 21st century by allowing people who object to funding war to re-direct the military portion of their taxes to non-violent methods of sustaining our national security. . . [Full text]


Belgian lawmakers to vote on world’s first death on demand law which would mean no doctor could stop a patient who wants to die

 Law is said to have high chance of getting support from parliamentarians

The Daily Mail

Steve Doughty

The world’s first ‘death on demand’ law is set to go before legislators in Belgium who have already ushered through an ultra-liberal euthanasia regime.

The new rules would mean no doctor would be allowed to block the wishes of a patient who asked to die.

The law – put forward by the country’s opposition socialist party – is thought to have a high chance of commanding support from a majority of parliamentarians.

They come at a time when numbers dying each year under the euthanasia laws have doubled in five years to reach more than 2,000. . . [Full text]


The Health Care Professional as Person: The Place of Conscience

Canadian Catholic Bioethics Centre

Bioethics Matters

Bridget Campion*

Recently I was asked to present “the Catholic position” on physician-assisted death as part of a panel discussion held at a downtown Toronto hospital. The purpose of the event was not to debate the issue but to educate participants about various points of view. I ran into some difficulty when I was discussing the Catholic Church’s interest in protecting the consciences of health care staff. One panelist immediately redirected our attention to the needs of the patient seeking physician-assisted death and the conversation left the health care professionals behind. In this short article, I would like to bring the focus back to the doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, therapists, in short, to the health care staff involved in patient care and who may have objections to performing or assisting in physician-assisted death.. . .  Full Text