Doctor's faith under scrutiny
Barrie physician won't offer the pill, could lose his licence
Barrie, Ontario, Canada (2002)
The Barrie Examiner
February 21, 2002
Reproduced with permission
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.
In a letter addressed to his patients, Dawson
quotes warnings from Ezekiel 3:18-21: "When you do
not warn nor dissuade an unrighteous man from his
evil ways, he will lose his soul for his iniquity,
and his blood will be on your hands. Yet if you do
warn him and he does not change from his evil ways,
he will lose his soul, but you will at least save
your own soul."
Dawson said he was advised he should have
referred the patients to another doctor to prescribe
the pill, but he feels that because the pill doesn't
require a referral to a specialist, the patients
were free to find another doctor on their own.
Kathryn Clarke, the spokesperson for the college
of physicians, said after a review of the previous
10 years' discipline reports, she doesn't believe
the college has had to address a similar situation.
"I don't know of any other case like this," said
Although it is not specifically detailed in the
college's regulations that doctors' must prescribe
certain medications (that may interfere with their
religious beliefs), Clarke doesn't describe the
action as falling into a grey area.
"There is no precedent, I know it's not written
down, the standards are more general in nature -
they're not that specific."
Clarke says the committee determines what the
standards are once evidence has been presented
during the hearing.
So until the committee actually meets, Dawson has
only been loosely charged with 'professional
misconduct in that he failed to meet the overall
moral and professional standard of care.'
The disciplinary committee is comprised of three
doctors and two members of the public. They have
several options when it comes to disciplining
The doctor can be reprimanded, his licence could
be suspended for a period of time, or they could
impose certain terms and conditions on his licence,
or revoke his licence.
"Based upon the allegations, we will present
evidence to prove those allegations and his lawyer
will defend those accusations," Clarke said.
The Canadian Medical Association Code of Ethics
reads 'When a physician's religious or moral
conscience alone prevents him from recommending some
form of therapy, he will so acquaint the patient.'
Dr. James Robert
Brown, a professor of science and religion at
the University of Toronto, said he agrees with
prosecuting a doctor with that sort of conflict.
"Suppose someone (doctor) said, 'I'm uncomfortable
with (treating) a minority,' I'd say, 'So long
scum'," said Brown.
Brown believes performing abortions and offering
other forms of contraception are necessary and if
Dawson won't perform them, then, Brown added, 'Fine
- just resign from medicine and find another job."
"Religious beliefs are highly emotional - as is
any belief that is effecting your behaviour in
society. You have no right letting your private
beliefs effect your public behaviour."
At this point, Dawson may back down a little on
his stand for religious freedom.
After speaking with his lawyer earlier this week,
the college has suggested he write letters to the
four women, apologizing for what might have been
perceived as an "overzealous" approach to their
request for oral contraceptives. If he does, he
feels they might reconsider their professional
However, he is still tossing around the prospect
of how he could inform prospective clientele of his
desire not to prescribe the pill, provide abortions,
offer the-morning-after pill to unmarried women, or
prescribe Viagra (a sex enhancement drug) to
"I'm willing to compromise," said Dawson.
But Father Tom Lynch, a professor of St.
Augustine Seminary at the University of Toronto,
said that might not be necessary. Lynch said
conscience clauses are pretty typical.
"He has a right in terms of not doing anything
that goes against his conscience," he said.