Canadian parliament asked to prohibit coercion in euthanasia

Protection of Conscience Project proposes amendment to euthanasia/assisted suicide bill

News Release

Protection of Conscience Project

The Protection of Conscience Project is asking the Parliament of Canada to make it a crime to force people to become parties to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The Project has proposed an amendment to Bill C-7, a pending euthanasia/assisted suicide bill. The amendment would establish that, as a matter of law and national public policy, no one can be compelled to become a party to homicide or suicide, or punished or disadvantaged for refusing to do so.

The proposed amendment would not prevent the provision of euthanasia or assisted suicide by willing practitioners, nor rational arguments aimed at persuading practitioners to participate, nor the offer of incentives to encourage participation. However, it would prevent state institutions or anyone else from attempting to force unwilling citizens to be parties to killing someone or aiding in suicide.

The need for the amendment is demonstrated by policies in Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Manitoba that compel health care workers to become parties to inflicting death upon patients. Further, Bill C-7 will increase demands that they participate in euthanasia and assisted suicide in increasingly controversial cases, since it will formally legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide for people who are disabled but not dying, and for those who lose the capacity to consent after having arranged for the procedures but before they have been provided.

Parliament has used its criminal law power to prohibit procedures that might be asked of health care workers, like female genital mutilation, and the government plans to prohibit some forms of “conversion therapy.”

“It is clear that the federal government can make it a crime to force people to become parties to homicide and suicide,” said Sean Murphy, Administrator of the Protection of Conscience Project.

“The Project hopes that Liberal, Conservative, Bloc, Green and Independent parliamentarians can agree that,whatever one might think about euthanasia and assisted suicide, it is unacceptable to compel unwilling Canadians to become parties to killing other people.”

Contact: Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

Physician  freedom of conscience in Saskatchewan

Sean Murphy*


Physician Assisted Dying adequately accommodates both physician freedom of conscience and patients’ access to services. It demonstrates that the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan could have taken the same approach to freedom of conscience in relation to other procedures and produced a satisfactory policy on conscientious objection.

Conscientious Objection is ambiguous with respect to effective referral and polemical in its treatment of a physician’s traditional obligation to render assistance in an emergency. It demonstrates the authors’ intention to suppress physician freedom of conscience by compelling them to provide or facilitate morally contested procedures, as well as the intricate wordplay necessary to achieve that end. . . [Full text]

Quebec law and freedom of conscience for health care professionals

Sean Murphy*

Unlike other Canadian provinces, Quebec codes of ethics for health care professionals are enacted by provincial statute. Quebec is also unique in having a provincial euthanasia law, which includes a protection of conscience provision for health care professionals specific to that service.

Freedom of conscience for services other than euthanasia

The Code of Ethics for Physicians1 and the gloss on the Code by ALDO Quebec,2 an authoritative document, require objecting physicians to advise patients of the consequences of not receiving the contested service, and “offer to help the patient find another physician.” They are not obliged to help the patient find someone willing to provide the contested service. Objecting physicians are normally quite willing to explain how patients can find other physicians or health care professionals. . . [Full text]

Quebec’s Act Respecting End of Life Care

Reportable and non-reportable euthanasia

Sean Murphy*


Quebec’s euthanasia law, the Act Regarding End of Life Care (ARELC), permits two kinds of euthanasia, distinguished here as reportable and non-reportable euthanasia.

Reportable euthanasia is identified as “medical aid in dying” in ARELC.1 Only physicians may administer a lethal substance, and only to a legally competent person who is at least 18 years old, meets other criteria and personally gives informed consent. Physicians must conform to procedural guidelines and reporting requirements. Most people probably believe that this is the only type of euthanasia authorized by the law.

Non-reportable euthanasia is not explicitly identified in the law, but is permitted for legally incompetent patients (including those under 14 years old) who are not dying. Substitute decision makers acting under the authority of Quebec’s Civil Code2 can order them to be starved and dehydrated to death. There are no procedural guidelines, no reporting requirements, and it appears that the order can be carried out by anyone responsible for patient care.3 All of this was incorporated into ARELC by a revision of the original text.

Note that section 50, the protection of conscience provision in ARELC for health care professionals, pertains ONLY to reportable euthanasia. The Act does not recognize the possibility of conscientious objection by health care professionals unwilling to participate in euthanasia by starvation and dehydration. . . [Full text]

Pharmacist  freedom of conscience in Alberta

Sean Murphy*

Code of Ethics (2009)

A protection of conscience provision is found in the Alberta College  of Pharmacy Code of Ethics (2009).1 Objecting pharmacists are directed

  • to help patients “obtain appropriate pharmacy services from another pharmacist or health professional within a time frame fitting the patient’s needs” (clause 3);
  • to arrange their practices so that “the care of [their] patients will not be jeopardized” when they refuse to provide services for reasons of conscience (clause 4);
  • to continue “to provide professional services” until another pharmacist or health professional has assumed responsibility (clause 1).

The text seems to presume that the objecting pharmacist need not provide the morally contested service. The requirement to continue to provide “professional services” until someone else assumes responsiblity does not impose an obligation to provide it if another professional is not available within the relevant time frame. . . [Full text]