Sask MDs, doctors’ groups ask for a hearing by College of Physicians and Surgeons

News Release

Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada

SASKATOON, June 17, 2015 /CNW/ – Larry Worthen, Executive Director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada (CMDS), urged the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (CPSS), today, to support freedom of conscience when they meet on Friday, June 19th, to consider a policy on conscientious objection. CMDS and other doctors’ groups are asking for a meeting with the College’s drafting committee to express their concerns.

Said Larry Worthen, “To ask physicians to act against deeply held moral convictions would be a clear infringement on physicians’ rights to the Section 2 fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The College’s Associate Registrar Brian Salte has ties to the Conscience Research Project led by one of Canada’s leading proponents of abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, and Mr. Salte has attended briefings of that group. We ask that the College would give us equal time to present our side of the argument and hear concerns about how this policy will affect patient care in Saskatchewan.”

Previous CPSS policy drafts required that physicians refer patients for procedures even when performing such procedures went against the moral convictions of the physician. Under the drafts, physicians would even be forced to actually perform procedures even though to do so would go against strongly held moral and religious convictions. Physicians who refused to comply would be vulnerable to sanctions up to and including losing their licences.

“No one’s interests are served by effectively disqualifying certain Saskatchewan physicians from the practice of medicine,” said Worthen.

Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant physicians hold grave concerns about the negative effects when they are forced to act against their consciences.

“Going against one’s conscience can cause moral distress which has been shown to affect patient care adversely. We need to have physicians who are free to bring their whole selves to their patients, including their compassion and their ethics,” said Mary Deutscher, member of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon Justice and Peace Commission. “For Catholic physicians, participation in a formal referral makes them an accomplice in the procedure. This position is supported by many evangelical Protestant experts and other groups as well.”

This is also reflected in the positions of CMDS, Canadian Physicians for Life (CPL) and the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies (CFCPS).

“Should the College choose to adopt this policy, it would assume the role of judge and jury deciding who could or could not exercise their constitutionally protected rights,” said Faye Sonier, CPL’s General Legal Counsel. “Physicians who cannot perform certain procedures due to their beliefs would become a class of citizens who fall outside the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

“Physicians who hold conscientious objections do so with profound respect for both the well-being and the autonomy of their patients. Their conscientious objections also stem from a deep commitment to the Hippocratic Oath,” said Dr. Thomas Bouchard, M.D., of the CFCPS. “In debates about conscience rights, the debate is often framed as a competition between the rights of a patient to access services versus the conscience of a physician. But physicians in these circumstances do not care solely about their conscience rights. These physicians also care deeply about the good of their patients.”

Self-referral is already a commonly exercised option among patients, including in respect of abortion services, across most of Saskatchewan. Self-referral allows the doctor to avoid being involved in facilitating the provision of the service, and the patient gets prompt access to the service.

A public opinion survey conducted May 20th-27th by Abingdon Research indicated that when a patient and doctor have different views on best treatment because of the doctor’s moral convictions, 47.5% of the Saskatchewan public felt that a patient could seek further advice or help from a different doctor without a formal referral, compared with 44.1% who felt the doctor should provide a formal referral. More than 53% of Saskatchewan residents felt that “nothing should happen to the doctor” who was unwilling to provide a treatment or a referral for reasons of moral conviction.

“Doctors represented by our groups are willing to discuss all procedures with their patients in a caring and objective way. We simply ask that when the patient makes a decision that the doctor cannot support for moral reasons that the patient access another service provider directly,” added Dr. Sheila Harding, M.D., a Saskatoon haematologist. “I have heard of many cases where doctor and patient agree to disagree and the patient returns to the physician’s practice after the procedure. If anything, the physician-patient relationship was enhanced.”

CMDS (Christian Medical and Dental Society) represents some 1600 physicians and dentists across Canada ( The Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies ( represents groups from across Canada. Canadian Physicians for Life ( is the national association of pro-life physicians and provides resources and educational opportunities to thousands of physicians and medical students each year.

SOURCE Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada

For further information: Larry Worthen at 902-880-2495. Larry is available for interviews in Saskatoon after 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, June 17th, until Noon, Saturday, June 20th.

College of Physicians, please stand up for religious minorities


Reproduced with permission

Faye Sonier

*Dr. Gabel is Member of Council and Past President of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. He is the chair of the College’s policy working group which issued the draft “Professional Obligations and Human Rights” policy.

Dear Dr. Marc Gabel,

I just read this article which was published in the Catholic  Register. You were quoted in the piece. Here is an excerpt:

Catholic doctors who won’t perform abortions or provide abortion referrals should leave family medicine, says an official of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

“It may well be that you would have to think about whether you can practice family medicine as it is defined in Canada and in most of the Western countries,” said Dr. Marc Gabel, chair of the college’s policy working group reviewing “Professional Obligations and Human Rights.”

The Ontario doctor’s organization released a draft policy Dec. 11 that would require all doctors to provide referrals for abortions, morning-after pills and contraception. The revised policy is in response to evolving obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code, Gabel said.

There have been no Ontario Human Rights Tribunal decisions against doctors for failing to refer for abortion or contraception.

Gabel said there’s plenty of room for conscientious Catholics in various medical specialties, but a moral objection to abortion and contraception will put family doctors on the wrong side of human rights legislation and current professional practice.

“Medicine is an amazingly wide profession with many, many areas to practice medicine,” he said.

Yes, medicine is “an amazingly wide profession.” Thankfully, it is also a profession which attracts an “amazingly wide” array of Canadians. Of those Canadian physicians are some who share my pro-life perspective. They may refuse to refer for abortion due to their conscience, but they may also refuse to refer due to their religious beliefs (or both – we’re working out what this means under the Charter). They may be Christian, Muslim, Jewish or atheist physicians but they have an issue with abortion or contraceptives. For them, to refer for this procedure or these drugs is to be complicit in the actions and their consequences.

I am an Ontario resident. I’m a cancer survivor. I’m a mother.  I have spent far more than my fair share of time in Ontario hospitals and clinics being treated by wonderful Ontario doctors.

Over the last few years, I’ve gone out of my way to work with pro-life physicians who share my perspective. I reject the notion that killing and dismembering unborn children is medicine, and I wanted to work with physicians who share my values regarding human life and human dignity.  Due to the “amazingly wide” practice of medicine in Ontario, I was able to find a few, and become their patient. I am so thankful for their care.

But due to your working group’s proposed new policy, I might lose my family physicians. They will choose to practice medicine in a province that respects both their skills and their rights, rather than sacrifice their conscience or their sincerely held religious beliefs.

I’m also a human rights lawyer. The College’s reasoning for stripping physicians of their conscience and religious rights is not based on law. Your working group received a number of submissions on that point, so I’ll leave you to review them with your legal counsel. The doctors seeking to exercise their freedoms have a leg to stand on. Heck, they have Canadian and Ontario human rights law on their side.

Of great concern to me is the definition of “discrimination” which you provided when interviewed:

“We’re saying that the discrimination occurs when you are not acting in the best interest of the patient,” said Gabel. “When you are not communicating effectively or respectfully about this with the patient, when you’re not managing conflicts, when you differ from the patient and when you are not respecting the patient’s dignity and ensuring their access to care and protecting their safety. That’s the issue.”

Dr. Gabel, this is not the definition of “discrimination” at law. If someone chooses to make up definitions for words, they are free to do so. (My son, for example, seems to think that “babagaba” is a verb which means “to chew on mommy’s ankle.”)

However, for a body like the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to create a new definition of “discrimination” which will result in the stripping of legal and human rights of some of their members is shocking, and this new definition will not stand up in a court of law. I urge the College to abide by Canadian and Ontario law.

Dr. Gabel, I suspect you are well intentioned and a kind and caring psychotherapist, like so many of the wonderful doctors who have treated me over the years. But please don’t force my physicians from the province with your policy. My family depends on their expertise and professionalism. I like to see my own values reflected in the “amazingly wide” practice of medicine in Ontario. For someone like myself, a religious minority, this is very important.

The membership of your College is broad and wide enough to include some family physicians who happen to hold pro-life positions. If it is not, it should be.


Faye Sonier