Dawson’s licence revoked for sexual misconduct

Physician who refused birth control to unmarried had sex with patient

 Sean Murphy*

On 9 May, 2005, the Discipline Committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario revoked Dr. Dawson’s registration as a physician for having engaged in the sexual abuse of a married female patient. He was ordered to appear before a panel to be reprimanded and to pay costs to the College in the amount of $2,500.00. A  summary of the judgement is available on the College website. [Full text]

Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons accommodates Christian physician

 Sean Murphy*

The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons has accepted a suggestion from Dr. Stephen Dawson that has resolved complaints lodged against him. Dr. Dawson, a Christian physician who practises in Barrie, Ontario, was charged for professional misconduct because he refused to prescribe birth control pills to four unmarried women.

Dr. Dawson now posts a policy statement in his waiting room that includes a statement that he will not prescribe birth control pills to unmarried women nor Viagra to unmarried men, nor will he arrange for abortions. He will not offer further information about his religious convictions except in response to queries from patients. [Full text]


Who is “imposing morality” in Barrie?

Winnipeg, Manitoba
5 April, 2002

Sean Murphy,  Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is Canada’s publicly funded state radio and television broadcaster. The following was sent to the CBC in Winnipeg, Manitoba, asking whether or not it would be accepted for broadcast in the same region where Dr. Goldman’s editorial was aired. The CBC did not  reply.

In an editorial broadcast on CBC Radio on 7 March, 2002, Dr. Brian Goldman criticized Dr. Frederick Ross of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Dr. Stephen Dawson of Barrie, Ontario. Dr. Ross had told his patients to stop smoking or find another doctor, while Dr. Dawson had refused to prescribe birth control pills or Viagra to single patients.

It does not seem that Winnipeg’s Dr. Ross believes that treating smokers is wrong, nor that it would be wrong to refer a smoker to another physician. His public statements do not preclude the possibility that he would treat smokers on an ad hoc basis (while standing in for an absent partner, for example).

In contrast, Dr. Dawson refuses to help single patients obtain birth control pills and Viagra under any circumstances, because he believes that by doing so he would be a party to immoral activity (i.e.,extramarital sex). Dr. Goldman was more sympathetic to this position, but criticized Dawson because he would not refer patients to other physicians who would prescribe the drugs.

Dr. Goldman recognized that his colleagues were acting for different reasons, but in drawing his conclusions he failed to maintain this distinction or recognize its significance. It is one thing to refuse to do something because it is inconvenient, difficult, frustrating, or pointless; it is quite another to refuse to do something because it is wrong. Grasping this distinction is the key to understanding the difference between the case of Dr. Ross, which does not seem to involve conscientious objection, and that of Dr. Dawson, which plainly does.

What some characterize as Dr. Dawson’s inflexibility actually illustrates the normal human reaction to a request to do something wrong. For example, a fifty year-old man who wanted to have sex with a fourteen year- old girl might be refused the use a friend’s apartment for that purpose. Nor would it be surprising if the unco-operative  friend also refused to refer the lecher to a more ‘flexible’ apartment owner.

We see the same principle at work in criminal law. It is an offence not only to commit a crime directly, but to counsel, aid or abet a crime committed by someone else. Again: many people who engage in ‘ethical investment’ do so because they do not want to be implicated, even indirectly, in business practices to which they object for reasons of conscience, even if the practices aren’t illegal.

Now, no one is suggesting that consensual extramarital sex between adults is morally equivalent to criminal activity. But when Dr. Dawson refused to provide birth control for single patients, he reacted exactly as an ‘ethical investor’ might react if asked to purchase shares in a company that exploits child labour. He reacted exactly as an honest man would act were he asked to help someone lie or cheat. In other words, he  acted as if extramarital sex really is wrong, and that its wrongness is not merely a matter of opinion or taste. That, in truth, is what has upset many of his critics; he has disturbed their repose in their  comfortable pews.

Of course, one may criticize a physician for causing needless distress to a patient by offering a poorly articulated or inappropriate explanation of his moral position. But that was not Dr. Goldman’s concern. Instead, he complained that Dr. Dawson had acted upon his own beliefs.

In fact, Dr. Goldman does exactly the same thing. He believes that he does nothing wrong by providing single patients with contraceptives and Viagra, and he acts upon that belief by writing prescriptions. Why should Dr. Goldman be allowed to act upon his beliefs by writing prescriptions, while Dr. Dawson is forbidden to act upon his by refusing  to do so? Is it because “the true north strong and free” is afraid of religious believers?

A physician who refuses, for reasons of conscience, to do something he believes to be wrong – falsifying a diagnosis, amputating a healthy limb, or prescribing contraceptives – does not force a patient to conform to his moral code. He is not “imposing morality.” To see what  “imposing morality” really means, watch this month when the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons tries to force Barrie’s Dr. Stephen Dawson to give up his Christian convictions, on pain of professional excommunication.

Project Letter to the National Post

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
23 February, 2002

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

A doctor caring for patients in four Ontario cities may be driven from the profession, or from the country,  because he refuses to practise medicine in accordance with the policies of Planned Parenthood (“MD under fire for denying birth control,” National Post, 22 February, 2002). Welcome to the world of single-issue ethics.

Professor Laura Shanner asserts her personal belief that a physician “absolutely must” help patients obtain drugs or procedures to which the physician objects for reasons of conscience. But there is no self-evident reason why her morality should be imposed upon dissenting physicians under threat of  professional excommunication. Nor do mantras like “standard of care” provide useful guidance when the morality of the ‘care’  itself is in issue. Dr. Morgantaler’s standard of care is, in some  respects, markedly different from that of Physicians for Life. The standard of care in Oregon includes assisted suicide, and in the Netherlands, euthanasia.

On the other hand, John Hof is mistaken in his suggestion that conscientious objectors may refuse to  prescribe contraceptives in order to meet the “spiritual needs” of their patients. People do not go to the doctor to  satisfy their spiritual needs, and physicians should not assume the role of spiritual director.

Conscientious objection arises from concern about one’s own moral culpability, not that of others. It is a matter of personal integrity, not an attempt to control someone else’s behaviour. The unfortunate situation in Barrie may be the result of an infelicitous explanation that failed to make this clear.

Disciplinary Hearing of Doctor Who Won’t Prescribe Pill Open to Public

Dr. Dawson Requests Prayers and Letters of Support

Dr. Stephen Dawson, the family doctor who is in danger of losing his medical licence over his refusal to prescribe the birth control pill to unmarried women clarified his position in an interview with LifeSite last night. Dr. Dawson told LifeSite that the initial coverage in the Barrie Examiner suggested he may compromise on the matter. He clarified: “Under no circumstances will I compromise. I would rather lose my licence.”

He said that he would not apologize for refusing to offer the pill to unmarried women but would apologize for the perhaps “overzealous manner in which I presented my case to these women initially.” [Full text]


Project Letter to the Barrie Examiner

Barrie, Ontario, Canada
22 February, 2002

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

Continuing attempts to suppress the freedom of conscience of health care workers like Dr. Stephen Dawson (“Doctor’s Faith Under Scrutiny,” The Barrie Examiner February 21, 2002) give the lie to the claim, oft repeated by Canadian politicians, that protection of conscience legislation is unnecessary. Perhaps their complacent attitude reflects the influence of rigid party discipline that only rarely permits them  the ‘privilege’ of voting according to conscience.

Professor J.R. Brown of the University of Toronto appears to covet the role of party whip, ready to lash or to exile recalcitrant ‘scum’ like Dr. Dawson for daring to let their beliefs affect their public behaviour.

Yet Professor Brown’s private beliefs affected his public behaviour when he asserted that people like Dr. Dawson should “find another job.” Will Professor Brown take his own advice? Or will he continue to speak, act and live in accordance with his own beliefs, even as he denies the same freedom to others who think differently – those whom he characterizes as ‘scum’?

Thoughtful readers will recognize that their relationships and their political and social activities are almost always governed, not by an analysis of empirical evidence, but by deeply held convictions about human dignity and equality, about good and evil, and other equally fundamental concepts. Some of these beliefs may be religious, others not, but all are beliefs. There is no reason, apart from anti-religious bigotry, to allow only atheists and agnostics the freedom to act on their beliefs in public life.

Doctor’s faith under scrutiny

Barrie physician won’t offer the pill, could lose his licence

 Cheryl Canning

Dr. Stephen Dawson faces a discipline committee at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in April because he refused to prescribe birth control pills to unmarried women.

A Barrie doctor could lose his licence to practise medicine because of his religious beliefs.

Dr. Stephen Dawson faces a discipline committee at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in April because he refused to prescribe birth control pills to unmarried women.

“If a Christian physician must forsake his religious beliefs to maintain his medical licence, we cannot delude ourselves to believe we live in a free country,” said Dawson.

Last summer, four female patients made formal complaints to the college, citing Dawson’s refusal to prescribe birth control to the “unmarried” women as the reason, he said.

Dawson believes that when a doctor prescribes birth control pills to an unmarried woman, he unwittingly promotes sex outside of marriage, because he removes the fear of pregnancy. [Full text]