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)

Physicians: Act on your convictions

Catholic Insight
November 2008
Reproduced with permission

Rory Leishman*

The Ontario Human Rights Commission is truly evil. By threatening to prosecute physicians under the Ontario Human Rights Code for refusing to participate in an abortion on demand, it has perpetrated one of the worst attacks on the right to conscience of physicians since Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Reich Commissar for the occupied Netherlands, tried to compel Dutch physicians to take part in the Nazi euthanasia program for the "useless, incurably sick."

Consider the evidence: in a submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario on February 14, the Ontario Human Rights Commission specifically warned: "A physician's denial of services or refusal to provide a woman with information relating to contraception or abortion, for example, would be discriminatory based on sex, as only women can become pregnant."

The implications of this threat are clear: in the opinion of the Commission, it is an offence under the Ontario Human Rights Code not only for obstetricians to refuse to perform an abortion, but also for a family practitioner to refuse to help a woman to obtain an abortion, by referring her to a willing abortionist.

In effect, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has outlawed compliance with the Hippocratic Oath. Physicians who have taken this oath will no longer be allowed in Ontario to stand by their sacrosanct promise: "I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly, I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and beneficence, I will guard my life and my art."

And let there be no mistaking: this crisis is not confined to Ontario. Physicians in all provinces with a human rights code banning discrimination on the basis of sex could be hauled before a human rights tribunal for refusing on principle to participate in an abortion.

It is commonly supposed that the Supreme Court of Canada would surely strike down any ruling by a human rights tribunal that censures a pro-life physician for refusing on moral or religious grounds to commit an abortion. But alas, such an outcome is far from certain.

Notwithstanding the ostensible guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion in section 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Supreme Court of Canada ordained in Trinity Western that while teachers are free to believe and to proclaim in Church that same-sex sexual relations are sinful, they are not free as teachers to act on that belief. The Court explained: "The freedom to hold beliefs is broader than the freedom to act on them…. Discriminatory conduct by a public school teacher when on duty should always be subject to disciplinary proceedings."

The Ontario Human Rights Commission insists that the same rule applies to physicians: they are free to believe that abortion is an evil that can never be justified; but they are not free to act on that belief by refusing to participate in an abortion at the request of a patient.

Seyss-Inquart likewise insisted that Dutch physicians had no right in conscience to refuse to participate in the Nazi euthanasia program. The great majority of Dutch physicians defied his order. By the summer of 1941, most had formally resigned from the collaborationist Dutch medical association, but continued to treat patients in private. Seyss-Inquart placed several hundred under arrest, but still these principled physicians refused to capitulate.

In the end, it was Seyss-Inquart who relented. To the everlasting credit of the Dutch physicians under Nazi occupation, no one participated in euthanasia.

Pro-life physicians in Canada should display similar resolve. Instead of just firing off letters of protest to the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, they should pledge that they, too, would formally resign from the profession, while continuing to treat patients in private, rather than capitulate to the grossly unjust order of a human rights tribunal to participate in abortion on demand.

And the rest of us should avow to do whatever we can -- even at the risk of financial ruin and jail -- to support any physician who has the courage to take such a principled stance in defence of the sanctity of human life.