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

New hope for Ontario doctors’ conscience fight

The Catholic Register

Michael Swan

New evidence heard in court has given Ontario’s medical conscientious objectors renewed hope.

Two days of hearings before the Ontario Court of Appeal Jan. 21-22 has provided Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS) executive director Deacon Larry Worthen a dollop of confidence as he waits for a decision from the three-judge panel. . . Full Text

Nurses’ use of conscientious objection and the implications for conscience

Christina Lamb, Marilyn Evans, Yolanad Babenko-Mould, Carol Wong, Ken Kirkwood

Abstract

Journal of Advanced Nursing

Aims: To explore the meaning of conscience for nurses in the context of conscientious objection (CO) in clinical practice. Design: Interpretive phenomenology was used to guide this study.

Data sources: Data were collected from 2016 ‐ 2017 through one‐on‐one interviews from eight nurses in Ontario. Iterative analysis was conducted consistent with interpretive phenomenology and resulted in thematic findings. Review methods: Iterative, phased analysis using line‐by‐line and sentence highlighting identified key words and phrases. Cumulative summaries of narratives thematic analysis revealed how nurses made meaning of conscience in the context of making a CO.

Impact: This is the first study to explore what conscience means to nurses, as shared by nurses themselves and in the context of CO. Nurse participants expressed that support from leadership, regulatory bodies, and policy for nurses’ conscience rights are indicated to address nurses’ conscience issues in practice settings.

Results: Conscience issues and CO are current, critical issues for nurses. For Canadian nurses this need has been recently heightened by the national legalization of euthanasia, known as Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada. Ethics education, awareness, and respect for nurses’ conscience are needed in Canada and across the profession to support nurses to address their issues of conscience in professional practice.

Conclusion: Ethical meaning emerges for nurses in their lived experiences of encountering serious ethical issues that they need to professionally address, by way of conscience‐based COs.


Lamb C, Evans M, Babenko-Mould Y, Wong C, Kirkwood Ken. Nurses’ use of conscientious objection and the implications for conscience. J Adv Nurs 2018 Oct 16. doi: 10.1111/jan.13869

Nurse practitioners not always compensated for providing medical assistance in dying

Ministry of Health and Long Term Care does not provide fee-for-service the way it does for physicians

CBC News

Angela Gemmill

The Nurse Practitioners Association of Ontario says some of its members are helping to provide their patients with medically assisted deaths without compensation.

It wasn’t until April of 2017 that nurse practitioners (NPs) in Ontario could prescribe the controlled substances used for medical assistance in dying (MAID).

Since then about 40 NPs across the province have provided either patient assessments or the procedure itself.

A patient must be assessed by two independent health care providers. This can be either a physician or a nurse practitioner. The procedure is the same regardless of who provides it.

One nurse practitioner in Sudbury, Ont. says it’s important for her to provide support to patients who want to take this step. She admits that medical assistance in dying is rather limited in Sudbury, in that not a lot of physicians or nurse practitioners are willing to provide it for patients. . . [Full text]

 

Thousands step up in support of doctors’ conscience fight

The Catholic Register

Michael Swan

An Ontario campaign to pressure politicians over the protection of health care conscience rights is “democracy in action,” said an organizer.

The Coalition of HealthCARE has so far collected 19,000 names and e-mail addresses in its “Call for Conscience Campaign.” That does not include results from the Archdiocese of Toronto.

The non-partisan campaign was launched to oppose and raise awareness about regulations that force doctors to refer for assisted suicide and euthanasia against their moral convictions.

By the end of March, people who have signed up during the campaign should receive instructions about how to e-mail all the candidates in their ridings in the run-up to Ontario’s June 7 provincial election. . . [Full text]

‘The solution is assisted life’: Offered death, terminally ill Ont. man files lawsuit

CTV News

A landmark lawsuit has been filed by an Ontario man suffering from an incurable neurological disease. He alleges that health officials will not provide him with an assisted home care team of his choosing, instead offering, among other things, medically assisted death.

“My condition is grievous and irremediable,” 42-year-old Roger Foley said from his bed at the London Health Science Centre’s Victoria Hospital in a video that was recently posted online. “But the solution is assisted life with self-directed funding.”

According to Foley, a government-selected home care provider had previously left him in ill health with injuries and food poisoning. Unwilling to continue living at home with the help of that home care provider, and eager to leave the London hospital where he’s been cloistered for two years, Foley is suing the hospital, several health agencies and the attorneys general of Ontario and Canada in the hopes of being given the opportunity to set up a health care team to help him live at home again — a request he claims he has previously been denied. . . [Full Text]

Formal network of docs offering medical assistance in dying is in the works for northeastern Ontario

Informal referral network currently in place with local physicians

CBC News

Angela Gemmill

For those in Sudbury and District seeking a doctor’s help to die, it may soon get a little easier to find one who is trained.

About 40 doctors and nurse practitioners in the region are now trained to offer Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID), after they had specialized training last fall in Sudbury from the Canadian Medical Association.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in June, 2016  that medical assistance in dying is a constitutional right, under Bill C-14.

Between then and now, there has only been an informal network for people seeking medically assisted death, said Dr. Paul Preston, Vice President of Clinical for the North East Local Health Integration Network, and an advocate for access for those seeking a doctor’s help with dying. . . [Full text]

 

Physicians are not solely responsible for ensuring access to medical assistance in dying

Diane Kelsall

Patients’ rights to access to medical assistance in dying (MAiD) trumps the religious rights of physicians under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms  –  or so says the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. But ensuring equitable access to health care is a societal responsibility and does not rest solely on the individual physician. Surely there is a way forward that ensures access for patients requesting MAiD without trampling on physician rights enshrined in law.

 


Kelsall D.  Physicians are not solely responsible for ensuring access to medical assistance in dying. CMAJ February 20, 2018 190 (7) E181; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.180153

Ontario: make a call for conscience

Ontario Call for Conscience 2018

Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience

The Problem

Assisted suicide has been legal in Canada since June 2016. Discussions are already taking place to  expand the criteria to minors, people with psychiatric illness and those with dementia. This puts people  who are lonely and isolated at risk of choosing euthanasia simply because they don’t have anyone  who cares and can give them hope.

Today in Ontario:

  • Physicians and other caregivers are forced to  participate in euthanasia against their will, by referring their patients.
  • Pro-euthanasia groups are threatening to sue faith based hospitals unless they allow  euthanasia on the premises.
  • Only a third of the population has access to adequate palliative care, so they are being  denied real choice on end of life issues.

This places physicians, nurses and other health  professionals in an impossible situation – assist in  the killing of their patients or lose the ability to care for patients at all.

This is happening despite constitutional protections for freedom of conscience and religion in the Charter  of Rights and Freedoms (s.2).

The Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience  represents more than 110 healthcare facilities (with  almost 18,000 care beds and 60,000 staff) and more than 5,000 physicians across Canada. Our members are unable to participate in taking a patient’s life due to moral or ethical convictions.

The Solution

The Ontario legislature has the power to protect conscience rights for individuals and facilities and to provide adequate palliative care and mental health services so that people will not see assisted suicide as their only option. Our efforts in Manitoba helped to ensure the province passed conscience protection legislation in November 2017.

In advance of the June 2018 provincial election in Ontario, we have the opportunity to ask candidates from all parties three important questions:

  1. Will you support legislation to protect doctors, nurses and other health care providers who are being forced to participate in assisted suicide/euthanasia through making a referral?
  2. How will you protect facilities from being forced to offer euthanasia/assisted suicide on their premises?
  3. How does your party plan to address the lack of quality palliative care in our province?

To get involved, please participate in your Church’s Sign Up Sunday. We will be collecting contact information to help mobilize a large database of people to contact candidates for the 2018 Ontario provincial election.

[Leaflet]

For more information, visit www.canadiansforconscience.ca

Doctors, advocacy groups address proposed law protecting those who object to assisted dying

CBC News

Holly Caruk

Dr. Frank Ewert wants protection from having to help a patient die — but Dying with Dignity Canada doesn’t want that to happen at the cost of patients receiving full access to end-of-life options.

“When I started back a number of years ago and vowed to follow the Hippocratic oath, I meant it. It was very profound to me, it resonated with my core beliefs, that I would always respect life, that I would do nothing to harm a patient,” Ewert told a legislative committee on Monday evening. . . [Full text]