Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude

Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code

Ontario Human Rights Commission attempts to suppress freedom of conscience (August-September, 2008)

Submission re: Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code

Catholic Civil Rights League
September 12, 2008
Reproduced with permission

Dr. Preston Zuliani
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario
80 College Street
Toronto, ON M5G 2E2

Via e-mail:

Re: Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code

Dear Dr. Zuliani,

The following comments are with respect to the CPSO's draft document "Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code." The Catholic Civil Rights League is a national non-profit association dedicated to upholding religious and conscientious freedom.

While the effort to help physicians comply with changes to the operations of the Ontario Human Rights Code is commendable, parts of this draft raise significant concerns for freedom of religion and conscience.

The draft policy states, "Physicians should be aware that decisions to restrict medical services offered, to accept individuals as patients or to end physician-patient relationships that are based on moral or religious belief may contravene the Code, and/or constitute professional misconduct." This strongly suggests an unreasonable limitation on physicians' ability to exercise religious and freedom in their professional practices.

As the draft document states, religious and conscientious beliefs are an integral part of the person. Therefore, the statement below is somewhat problematic:

Personal beliefs and values and cultural and religious practices are central to the lives of physicians and their patients. However, as a physician's responsibility is to place the needs of the patient first, there will be times when it may benecessary for physicians to set aside their personal beliefs in order to ensure that patients or potential patients are provided with the medical treatment and services they require.

Canada has an established custom of accommodating sincerely held religious and conscientious convictions as much as possible. The expectation that physicians must set aside their beliefs with regard to treatments or referrals that violate their conscience is unreasonable, and at odds with the CMA's Joint Statement on Preventing and Resolving Ethical Conflicts Involving Health Care Providers and Persons Receiving Care (1998); also Journal of the Canadian Medical Association, April 24,07).

Another statement of concern: "Physicians should not express personal judgments about the beliefs, lifestyle, identity or characteristics of the patient or potential patient." I suggest this is an overly general expectation to put on a professional who might reasonably be expected to be critical of smoking, drug abuse, excessive eating and drinking or a too-sedentary lifestyle. Even matters of belief might not be beyond the doctors' professional guidance should these beliefs involve anti-social, and particularly anti-female attitudes that could victimize a patient's family.

It is our hope that the review process allows the profession to formulate guidelines that offer the best possible protection for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience for all concerned. With two private member's bills favouring euthanasia put before Parliament in the past five years, it's certainly not inconceivable that Canada will have a liberalized law at some future date, which could raise ethical dilemmas even more acute than those we have today.

Thank you for considering these remarks.

Yours truly,

Joanne McGarry
Executive Director