Sacrificing hospitals, and freedom of conscience along with it

National Post

Douglas Farrow, Will Johnston

In 1639 three nuns got off the boat from France and began to build Hotel Dieu in Montreal, the first hospital in Canada. Over time, some 275 hospitals were built across our country by self-sacrificing Catholics who faithfully served the sick and dying out of love and compassion, without regard to their patients’ faith or lack of faith. Succeeding generations of Canadians have been grateful for the spiritual and physical care they have received at such places.

St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver is one of those Catholic hospitals. In keeping with its faith-based principles, it respects the Catholic sense of human dignity — meaning, among other things, that it does not perform abortions or participate in assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Ellen Wiebe, a physician who is also an abortion and euthanasia activist, together with a lawyer, Richard Owens, recently criticized St. Paul’s because it would not euthanize one of its dying patients, Ian Shearer. . .  [Full text]



Euthanasia Activists Have Taken Over Canadian Thought

Huffington Post

Will Johnston

The Canadian euthanasia issue marks a time of upheaval in medical ethics and the healthcare system which could be compared to events a century ago in Russia.

The Bolsheviks were not preordained to take over from the previous government, but their ruthlessness and aggression were unmatched. They demonized competing ideas and purged the social structures. They made their own laws. Nothing was allowed to stand. All was justified for public good, the good of the Proletariat.

The polite Canadian version seems to be that all control is justified by public funding. If a hospital accepts public money, a uniformity of euthanasia access is expected, a literally deadening uniformity.

People who would be ignored if they insisted that all welfare recipients be required to think alike, or that all Canada Council grants be used to create the same work of art, grab attention by bullying Catholic caregivers and hospitals which, like all hospitals, could not survive without tax dollars. . . [Full text]

Effective referral – toll free crisis line

For any ethical medical service, what physician would set out to make an “ineffective referral”? 

Dr. Will Johnston, M.D.

“Effective referral” – what a bland phrase.  Yet the Nova Scotia the Ontario Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons have adopted this euphemism to mean “removing your discretion as to whether to send a suicidal patient to a doctor who would have no compunctions about killing them if some basic criteria are present.”

For any ethical medical service, what physician would set out to make an “ineffective referral”?  An imaginary referral?  A recreational referral?  On the other hand, what kind of physician would force a colleague to do something they believed to be wrong?

No, “effective referral” is, in our current Troubles, the code phrase for “compulsory referral.”

“Effective referral” is a red flag, useful for identifying those who find it inconvenient that Section 2 of the Charter talks about freedom of conscience and religion.

“Effective referral” is a flashing blue light duct-taped to the heads of College officials and academics who feel competent to remake the ethics of medicine in their own image.

Pressured to violate your conscience rights?
Not sure what to do?
CALL US TOLL FREE – 1-855-239-0622

Medical professionals who hold to traditional Hippocratic medical ethics are facing difficult times.  Some of our members have been attacked in the media for their beliefs, students and residents face pressure to perform acts contrary to their religious beliefs or morals, and it was necessary for Canadian Physicians for Life to join a legal challenge against a regulatory college because its policies require physicians to violate their consciences.

For these reasons, we are providing a crisis line that our members can call in times of difficulty, when their personal or professional integrity is under attack for any reason.  Whether you are a student being challenged by an attending physician, or a physician being written about in the press, Canadian Physicians for Life is just a phone call away.

What is the Crisis Line?  By calling our toll-free number at 1-855-239-0622, members will have the opportunity to speak for an hour with a lawyer.  Depending on the circumstances, members will also have access to a network of pro-life physicians and professionals who can offer advice on media strategies, dealing with institutional politics, handling difficult ethical circumstances and crisis communications.

There is no cost to use the Crisis Line.  For more information, call or visit

Dr. Will Johnston is President of Canadian Physicians for LifeCanadian Physicians for Life seeks to promote public awareness of and professional adherence to the time-honoured Hippocratic medical tradition, which affirms the inviolability of every human life. Founded in 1975, we are a non-profit, charitable organization of Canadian physicians dedicated to the respect and ethical treatment of every human being, regardless of age or infirmity. We are pro-life physicians, retired physicians, medical residents, and students dedicated to building a culture of care, compassion, and life.  P.O. Box 65136, RPO Merivale, Nepean, Ontario K2G 5Y3  Ph. 613-728-LIFE(5433) TF 1-855-239-0622  F 613-319-0837


Beware of assisted-suicide zealots

National Post

Will Johnston

For at least a few more months, the Canadian medical system will continue to be a safe space, free of assisted suicide and euthanasia. But all that is about to change. In order to ensure our hospitals and palliative care centres remain places where patients feel safe and secure, we must respect doctors’ conscience rights, rather than listen to activists who seek to impose their one-size-fits-all policy on the rest of us.

For instance, the palliative care centres in Quebec that refuse to have anything to do with euthanasia, for reasons of medical judgment and ethics, have apparently angered Jean-Pierre Menard, the lawyer who helped write Quebec’s euthanasia law, Bill 52. The act specifically states that palliative care centres are not required to provide euthanasia service — but maybe to Menard, those were just soothing words to get the bill passed. Now Menard says money should be taken away from palliative services that won’t provide euthanasia on their premises. And the minister of health, Gaetan Barrette, has threatened to revoke the hospital privileges of doctors who won’t comply. . . . [Full text]

Canadian Medical Association says it’s getting ready for legalized euthanasia, but critics say it is pushing it

LifeSite News

Steve Weatherbe

The Canadian Medical Association says it is preparing for the Supreme Court of Canada going either way with its imminent decision on whether or not to legalize euthanasia. But a Vancouver member says the CMA is actually pushing assisted suicide and euthanasia despite the wishes of its membership.

In a front-page article in the National Post, the CMA’s director of ethics, Dr. Jeff Blackmer, is quoted as saying, “We’re preparing for all eventualities and that [lifting the ban] is absolutely one of them.”

According to the Post, part of the CMA’s preparation for “all eventualities” is to survey how medical professions in a half-dozen U.S. states have responded to legalization. “What has worked, what hasn’t worked and how Canada can learn from those experiences,” Blackmer told the Post. Also consulted were countries that have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland.

Blackmer did not report that the CMA consulted any of the vast majority of countries or U.S. states, which still criminalize these two procedures, to see what can be learned from their experience. . .

. . . But not everyone sees the CMA’s process as an even-handed one. The CMA “is really pulling a fast one,” said Will Johnson, a family doctor who is head of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of British Columbia. “It’s run by people who want assisted suicide and euthanasia and they are purporting a big change in the views of doctors on this. If they were sincere they would hold a referendum.” [Full text]


Submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario

Freedom of Professional Judgment

Canadian Physicians for Life

I would like to thank the CPSO for inviting comment about its Policy Statement #5-08, “Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code.”

The CPSO policy is fair and should not change.

Some, and I would hope most,  Canadian physicians wish to practice as professionals in a free country,  and to use their hard-won medical wisdom in the service only of the patient who presents with the unique circumstances of an individual life. This excludes treating the patient as a means to an end, political or otherwise, but rather the doctor’s judgment should be fearlessly focused on the physical and mental integrity of the patient.

In recent years various activists have attempted to impugn certain medical decisions in controversial situations, notably requests for abortion or for  potentially abortifacient drugs.  The activists wish to portray their ideological opponents as driven by purely private (usually religious) prejudices which have no place in medical practice.

The CPSO  should decline to be used by such activists as an instrument to suppress their critics, for in reality that is all that is going on with demands that physicians be forced to refer for, or perform, certain acts.

If a physician has come to the conclusion that induced abortion would be bad for a certain patient and fatal for her child, the CPSO is in a good position to recognize this opinion  as resulting from the healthy application of medical judgment.  Some activists wish to malign such decisions  by casting them  as  creatures  of a whimsical  “conscience” as opposed to an obedience to  “professionalism.”

These activists have a debased understanding of  both concepts.  The free application of a  good conscience directs  the doctor to offer selfless professional judgment to each human being he or she has the honour to advise and treat.

The concept of “conscience” should never be used to cloak an agenda hidden from the patient, and the concept of “professionalism” should never be turned on its head to subjugate professional judgment to a political ideology or to persecute those who show  ethical courage.

I wish the CPSO endurance in resisting the erosion of its members’  freedom to do the right thing for their patients.

Yours cordially,

Will Johnston MD
President, Canadian Physicians for Life
495 West 40th Ave.
Vancouver BC V5Y 2R5


Ethics Profiling in the Health Care Profession

Conscience Legislation  Needed to Stop Abuse of Authority

12 May, 2004

Will Johnston, MD President
Canadian Physicians for Life

The recent near-failing of a medical student at a Canadian university, solely because the student has pro-life convictions, shows how intolerant some people have become about choices they dislike. For years, Canadian     Physicians for Life has received anecdotal complaints from students who suspect that their medical school admission interview went badly after they truthfully answered questions which probed for pro-life beliefs. This recent case was blatant and completely documented, created undue anxiety for the student, and only ended after many months of unsuccessful appeals of the teachers’ intolerant actions. A modern democracy should have a keen interest in protecting vulnerable students from coercion by preceptors and professors who are unaware of, or insensitive to, the concept of freedom of conscience.

We don’t screen immigrants to Canada on the basis of race or religion. Why should such litmus tests be applied to citizens applying to enter key professions? Ethics profiling is no less objectionable than racial profiling.

Freedom of conscience, it seems, is now granted freely only to those whose views are acceptable to an authoritarian, secularist establishment. Others must endure the enormous costs and stress of legal challenges or implore sympathetic fellow citizens to petition those in power on their behalf. Until this situation is corrected, the Canadian experiment in pluralism will remain in a delayed adolescence.

Sincere proponents of multiculturalism and pluralism understand the importance of protection of conscience. But they must come to recognize that too many in positions of power need statutory reminders to treat fairly     those who disagree with them about the damage abortion does to women and children.

Basic conscience protection such as that provided in Bill C-276 begins to address the problems of abuse of authority and ethics profiling which lead to the kind of injustice seen in the recent case of the medical student. Such abuses must be explicitly treated in law, not left to an ad-hoc scramble by the victim and his or her friends.

The time is long overdue for the Parliament of Canada to follow the lead of countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, and 46 American states to protect and clarify freedom of conscience for Canadian health care workers. In addition to necessary employment protection, the proposed Canadian legislation corrects deficiencies found in many such laws by explicitly protecting persons of conscience from exclusion from health sciences education and from discrimination by professional licensing bodies.

Canadian Physicians for Life 29 Moore Street, R.R. # 2 Richmond ON K0A 2Z0 ph/fax: 613-728-LIFE (5433)

Med-school admission committees: tainted by pro-choice bias?

Williard Johnston, M.D.*

Recently, a worried pre-med student called me. A year ago her interview had gone badly, partly because her pro-life views became known to her interviewer, a woman whose pro-choice sentiments have been expressed to me personally in the past. Back for another try, her interview somehow ended up on the same topic.

A few months ago I met a new colleague at my community hospital. He reminded me of a conversation we had had several years ago, when he had phoned me for advice after losing his position at a public health clinic. He  had done well in the job, and was about to be hired permanently, when the non-physician office manager called him in for an “interview” and bluntly exposed his pro-life leanings. “It’s men like you who ruin the lives of  young women,” was her tactful observation. He was informed that he would be given no further sessions at the publicly funded downtown clinic, and was more or less told to pack his bags. Now in private practice not far from me, he still wonders if he did the right thing by accepting this treatment silently.

However, there is a far more basic threat to the ability of physicians to hold pro-life views.[Full text]