Ontario doctors fight law forcing them to help kill their patients

The Interim

Five doctors and three doctors’ groups were in an Ontario court June 13-15 arguing a policy from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) violates their Charter rights to freedom of conscience and religion. The CPSO forces doctors to refer patients for euthanasia and abortion, even when it violates their conscience or religion. Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government intervened on behalf of the college.

The 2015 CPSO policy requires that doctors who object on religious or conscience grounds to providing certain procedures such as abortion and euthanasia must give patients seeking these practices an effective referral. This means directly handing over a patient to another colleague who will follow through with an abortion or euthanasia request. The doctors argue this implicates them in the immoral practices to which they object. . . . [Full text]


Ontario conscience rights case now in judges’ hands

Catholic Register

Michael Swan

TORONTO – Three days and nearly two dozen lawyers arguing the broad principles and technical details of constitutional law before a three-judge has panel left Christian Medical and Dental Society executive director Deacon Larry Worthen “cautiously optimistic.”

“The court certainly heard our arguments,” Worthen told The Catholic Register on June 15 outside the courtroom as lawyers shook hands and dispersed in the hallways of historic Osgoode Hall.

The trial before the Ontario Court of Justice was likely the first leg in a battle all the combatants expect will end in at the Supreme Court of Canada. Five dissenting Christian doctors who all object to abortion, chemical birth control, petri-dish human fertilization and assisted suicide asked the court to strike down a 2015 College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario rule that forces them to provide an “effective referral” for services they reject on the basis of their religious faith or conscience. . . [Full text]


Ontario conscience rights case goes to court

Catholic Register

Michael Swan

TORONTO – In historic Osgoode Hall, 17 lawyers along with eight banker boxes of documents were arrayed three benches deep in front of Justice Herman J. Wilton-Siegel, Justice Richard A. Lococo and Justice Wendy W. Matheson before lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos made his opening arguments on behalf of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada and in favour of the Charter right of doctors to practice medicine according to their conscience.

The CMDS, supported by the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians Societies, Canadian Physicians for Life and the Catholic Civil Rights League, is in Ontario Superior Court of Justice June 13-15 challenging the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario over its “effective referral” policy. The policy forces doctors who object to abortion, birth control and assisted suicide to write an “effective referral” for the services to a willing and available doctor. Intervening on the side of the provincial regulatory body governing the practice of medicine is the Attorney General of Ontario.


Constitutional lawyers debate conscience rights

BC Catholic

Deborah Gyapong

Legal experts squared off in a debate on physicians’ conscience rights March 16 in a debate hosted by the University of Ottawa’s law school.

Albertos Polizogopoulos, representing five Ontario doctors challenging Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeon policies requiring effective referral on procedures such as abortion and euthanasia, argued for conscience rights. He argued Section 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides such protection. . .


Queen’s University Senior Contracts Negotiator Ricardo Smalling argued physicians’ conscience rights must be balanced with the rights of patients who are seeking care in their “weakest” moments.

Highlighting the “subjective nature of conscience,” Smalling said eliminating conscientious objection “is the only way to ensure there is a predictable framework that guarantees a patient’s health care.” . . . [Full text]


Christian doctors challenge Ontario’s assisted-death referral requirement

Globe and Mail

Sean Fine

Groups representing more than 4,700 Christian doctors across the country have launched a court challenge to Ontario regulations that require them to refer patients to physicians willing to provide an assisted death, arguing the referrals are morally equivalent to participating in the procedure.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, however, takes issue with the faith groups’ position. “An effective referral does not foreshadow or guarantee an outcome,” college spokeswoman Tracey Sobers said in an e-mail.

Ewan Goligher, a doctor who works in the intensive care unit at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said he considers himself a conscientious objector to doctor-assisted dying and supports the court challenge. “I think the patient is of greater value than their preference, and I cannot lift my hand to destroy that which is of fundamental value,” he said in an interview. . . [Full Text]


Amended C-14 includes nod to conscience protection

Catholic Register

Deborah Gyapong

OTTAWA – An amendment to Canada’s proposed assisted suicide legislation fails to go far enough to protect conscience rights and religious freedom, say several opponents.

The Justice Committee voted to amend Bill C-14 to add a clause that says no one should be compelled to participate in euthanasia and assisted suicide. But Conservative MPs, medical and legal representatives want further amendments before Bill C-14 becomes law, expected by June 6.

The committee added a clause May 11 that says: “For greater certainty, nothing in this section compels an individual to provide or assist in providing medical assistance in dying.” It also amended the preamble to stipulate that the bill recognizes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees regarding freedom of conscience and religion.

But the bill still fails to provide protection for institutions that refuse to participate in assisted suicide or address the issue of referrals. . .[Full Text]


If Supreme Court decriminalizes physician-assisted suicide, doctors may be obligated to help with euthanasia

National Post

Shanifa Nasser

Doctors may be forced to support euthanasia over their own religious objections if the Supreme Court of Canada decides to decriminalize physician-assisted suicide in a landmark ruling expected Friday.

The court announced Monday it is set to rule on the Carter case launched on behalf of B.C. women Kathleen Carter and Gloria Taylor, who have since died.

Ahead of the ruling, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which regulates medical doctors in Ontario, has been seeking public input on a draft policy that would force the province’s doctors to help patients access any services to which they are legally entitled. It will finalize the policy after the comment period ends on Feb. 20.

Whatever its policy ultimately looks like, the college is clear: a patient’s right to access services outweighs a doctor’s right to refuse them. “We prioritize the interests of our patients in facilitating access,” says Dr. Marc Gabel, past president of the college and chair of the policy’s working group. . . . [Full Text]

Decriminalization of assisted suicide and the violation of our rights

LifeSite News

 Albertos Polizogopoulos*

Note: This article appeared about one month before the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the  legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

In October, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the Carter case, where parties are challenging Criminal Code prohibitions on physician assisted suicide in the hopes of decriminalizing it. If they’re successful, it will impact more than just physicians.

In the Carter case, I acted for two groups of Protestant and Catholic physicians and a group of Catholic healthcare institutions. We argued that life is sacred and that assisted suicide should not be decriminalized, but we went on to argue more. The physicians argued that killing was not medicine and the Catholic healthcare institutions argued that providing dignity in death to the terminally ill and suffering was accomplished through palliative care and spiritual care, not through prematurely ending patient lives.

Beyond that, and most importantly, both groups pleaded with the Court to protect freedom of religion and freedom of conscience should it decide to decriminalize assisted suicide. In short, the physicians asked that should the Court legalize assisted suicide, that it rule that physicians who object to the practice on moral or religious grounds cannot be compelled to engage in the practice. Similarly, the Catholic healthcare institutions asked that they not be required to offer assisted suicide in their facilities on the grounds that doing so would violate Catholic teaching. . . [Full text]

Ontario College of Physicians’ new policy violates basic tenets of law

Larry J. Worthen, Albertos Polizogopoulos

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) recently released a draft policy on professional obligations and human rights that has deeply disturbed health service providers and patients.  The draft policy forces physicians to do certain procedures or prescribe certain pharmaceuticals against their own moral or religious convictions in some cases, or to make a formal referral to another doctor in others. In doing so the CPSO has drafted a policy that violates Canadian law. This matter has taken on an even more serious tone given the possibility that assisted suicide and euthanasia may be legalized at some point in the future.

There is no human right in Canada to demand and receive particular services from a specific physician. The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination against the public on a number of grounds that include among others, race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability. This means that one must not deprive one group of services one provides to others. However, the Code does not dictate what services must be delivered. So, if a restaurant chooses not to serve pork because of the owner’s religious beliefs, there is no violation of the Code. If the restaurant choses to exclude people of a particular ethnic group however, that would amount to discrimination and a violation of the Code. In the same way, a physician who is unable to participate in a procedure or prescribe a pharmaceutical for moral or religious reasons is not discriminating against his or her patient provided all patients are treated the same.  Unfortunately, the draft policy suggests that a physician’s objection to a specific procedure or pharmaceutical may result in the violation of a patient’s rights under the Charter or the Code. This reference makes clear that those who prepared this policy misunderstand the application and function of Ontario and Canadian law.

Physicians do have the right to be protected from state coercion to act against their moral or religious convictions, guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Provided the services are delivered in a respectful way there are no competing rights. In such a case, the only human rights present are the physician’s human rights to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. Furthermore, when the physician is an employee they have the additional right to be accommodated by their employer.

Referrals are as morally problematic as doing the procedure itself. This concept is supported in Canadian law. For instance, if an accused person refers an acquaintance to a drug dealer, the accused person is guilty of the crime of trafficking in narcotics. If a physician has the moral or religious conviction that abortion or euthanasia is the taking of an innocent human life, then the physician who formally refers a patient to the abortionist or euthanist has contributed to the taking of that life.

Physicians who rely on these protections want to serve all patients in an open and inclusive manner, providing all relevant information in a fair and unbiased way, striving to be non judgemental and supportive in their approach. In a multicultural society, doctors relate with patients with widely divergent worldviews every day. The physician’s primary concern is for their patient’s health. Even when the physician is not able to participate in the implementation of the patient’s ultimate decision, the professional relationship between them can be maintained and may even be enhanced. Physicians in these circumstances are up front with their patients about what services they will or will not provide from the beginning of the relationship. Physicians simply request that their rights be respected just as they respect the rights and feelings of their patients.

Unfortunately, the purpose of this draft policy appears to be clear. It was not designed to ensure that physicians understand and comply with their legal obligations under the Code, but rather, it appears to have been designed with the goal of either compelling physicians who object to specific procedures and pharmaceuticals to act against their moral and religious convictions or, alternatively, to drive those who object to these procedures and pharmaceuticals out of the medical profession.

If the CPSO passes this policy, it will do great damage to many well-qualified physicians who are currently making significant contributions to health care in Canada. The CPSO will be alienating these physicians from their heart and soul that is their primary motivator for excellent patient care. And the CPSO will be depriving many members of the public of the type of doctor they would prefer to be treated by. This is discrimination.  It is the systematic disqualification of perfectly acceptable practitioners because of their religious beliefs.

This policy cannot withstand Charter scrutiny as it results in a clear violation of physician’s conscience and religious rights. The CPSO perhaps assumes that physicians will not defend their Charter rights to freedom of religion and conscience. They are wrong.

Larry Worthen is a lawyer and the Executive Director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, an association that represents 1600 physicians across Canada. The CMDS presented submissions to the CPSO in relation to the draft policy.

Albertos Polizogopoulos is a Partner with the firm Vincent Dagenais Gibson LLP/s.r.l. in Ottawa, Ontario. He regularly appears before courts and appellate courts including the Supreme Court of Canada to advocate for his clients’ rights to freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and other civil liberties. He also frequently appears in media interviews and on panels to discuss constitutional law. Albertos was counsel to the CMDS in making submissions to the CPSO on the draft policy. @CharterLaw