Conscience Project critiques Ontario Physicians College euthanasia/assisted suicide policy

Referral, urgent situations, death certificates, criminal law

News Release

For immediate release

Protection of Conscience Project

Conscience Project critiques Ontario Physicians College euthanasia/assisted suicide policy

Powell River, BC. (28 April, 2021) The 2019 decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal supporting the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario was not the last word on the subject of physician freedom of conscience.

That message was delivered to the College by the Protection of Conscience Project in a submission responding to the College’s request for public feedback on its policy, Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). The submission focuses primarily on the College demand that physicians unwilling to provide euthanasia or assisted suicide (EAS) for reasons of conscience provide an “effective referral”: that is, connect the patient directly with someone willing to provide a lethal injection or assist with suicide.

The submission on MAiD addresses three points unique to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Conflicts in urgent situations: If a patient is approved for EAS at some future date, a sudden deterioration of the patient’s condition may cause the patient to ask for immediate relief by EAS. In the absence of an EAS practitioner, other practitioners may be willing to alleviate the patient’s distress by palliative interventions, but not to provide EAS. The Project suggests how this conflict can be avoided.

Falsifying death certificates: Falsification of death certificates is contrary to accepted international standards and can be considered deceptive, unethical or professionally ill-advised. The Project suggests how EAS practitioners unwilling to falsify death certificates can be accommodated by the College and Office of the Chief Coroner even if current government policy does not change.

Criminal law limits on College policy: The Project’s position is that the College cannot proceed against practitioners who, having the opinion that a patient is not eligible for EAS, refuse to do anything that would entail criminal responsibility for homicide/assisted suicide, including “effective referral.” Further, to advise or attempt to coerce them to present EAS as treatment options or to participate by effective referral would seem to be a criminal offence. Finally, since counselling suicide remains a criminal offence, it appears that practitioners cannot be compelled to present assisted suicide or MaiD as treatment options unless a patient has expressed an interest in the services.

The College’s clarification that it does not require objecting practitioners to personally kill their patients is welcome. However, the Project’s position is that this ought to be the norm in a democratic society, not a “concession”or an element in the “accommodation” of freedom of conscience.

While the submission includes specific policy recommendations within the existing MAiD policy framework, it recommends that the College adopt a single protection of conscience policy in line with “the basic theory” of the Canadian Charter of Rights affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada and consistent with rational moral pluralism. Such a generally applicable policy is included in the simultaneous Project submission to the College on Professional Obligations and Human Rights.

Public consultations on Professional Obligations and Human Rights [Consultation Page] and Medical Assistance in Dying [Consultation Page] are open until 14 May, 2021.

Contact: Sean Murphy,
Administrator, Protection of Conscience Project
protection@consciencelaws.org

Ontario College of Physicians policy challenged

Forcing physicians out of Covid fight not in public interest

News Release

For immediate release

Protection of Conscience Project

Ontario College of Physicians policy challenged

Powell River, B.C. (28 April, 2021) The 2019 decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal supporting the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario was not the last word on the subject of physician freedom of conscience.

That message was delivered to the College by the Protection of Conscience Project in a submission responding to the College’s request for public feedback on its policy, Professional Obligations and Human Rights (POHR).

The submission includes a cautionary note about the potential implications of human rights law for practitioners providing euthanasia and assisted suicide. However, the primary focus is on the College demand that physicians unwilling to provide a service or procedure for reasons of conscience provide an “effective referral”: that is, connect the patient directly with someone willing to do what they consider immoral/unethical.

Practitioners who object to providing a service typically provide information and work cooperatively with patients and others in relation to patient access to services. While willing to respectfully cooperate, they are unwilling to collaborate by doing something that makes them a party to what they consider wrongful and/or harmful. The distinctions between providing information vs. providing a service and between cooperation vs. collaboration enable an approach that accommodates both patients and practitioners, argues the Project.

However, the College is clearly confused about such critical distinctions. Citing College policy and reasoning, the submission states, “the College’s assertion that effective referral for euthanasia/assisted suicide does not ‘signal’ endorsement or support for the procedures [Advice:MAiD] is either disingenuous or the product of badly muddled wishful thinking.”

“The College does not even correctly apply its own definition of effective referral in its companion policy document,” observes Sean Murphy, Administrator of the Project.

According to the College, physicians unwilling to comply with its effective referral policy should restrict their practices to specialties like hair restoration.[1] This would force all objecting physicians out of general practice.

“To put it in a currently relevant perspective,” says Murphy, “the College would have them terminate all Covid 19 pandemic activities and take up podiatry or aviation medicine. This is hardly consistent with ensuring access to health care or protecting the public interest.”

The Project recommends that the College adopt a single protection of conscience policy in line with “the basic theory” of the Canadian Charter of Rights affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada and consistent with rational moral pluralism. The submission includes a such general policy, drawing on policy documents from the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nurses’ Association, Catholic Health Association of Canada and the Canadian Medical Protective Association.

The Protection of Conscience Project has also made a submission about College’s policy on euthanasia and assisted suicide, Medical Assistance in Dying. Public consultations on Professional Obligations and Human Rights [Consultation Page] and Medical Assistance in Dying [Consultation Page] are open until 14 May, 2021.

Notes

  1. Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada v. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, 2019 ONCA 393 (CanLII) at para 184.

Contact: Sean Murphy,
Administrator, Protection of Conscience Project
protection@consciencelaws.org

Protection of Conscience Project supports Ontario Medical Association appeal

News Release

Protection of Conscience Project

The Protection of Conscience Project has written to the Canadian Senate’s Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in support the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), a professional association representing over 31,000 practising Ontario physicians. The OMA has asked the committee to add a protection of conscience amendment to Bill C-7, a euthanasia/assisted suicide bill now before the Canadian Senate.

The current and previous Liberal governments have repeatedly rejected efforts to include such protection for health care practitioners in relation to what the law calls medical assistance in dying (MAiD). A favoured (and correct) response from the government and its supporters is that protection of conscience legislation falls within provincial jurisdiction, so it is not possible to include it in the Criminal Code.

However, that is not the end of the matter.

“Bill C-7 is an exercise of the federal government’s absolute constitutional jurisdiction in criminal law because medical assistance in dying is (non-culpable) homicide and assisted suicide,” wrote the Project Administrator.

“Within that context, Bill C-7 can be amended to protect freedom of conscience without intruding upon provincial jurisdiction. Just as female genital mutilation has been made a crime, Bill C-7 can be amended to make it a criminal offence to force people to become parties to homicide and suicide.”

With the letter was the Project’s submission on this point to a House of Commons standing committee in the fall of 2020.

Contact: Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project
email: protection@consciencelaws.org

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
protection@consciencelaws.org

Ontario Court of Appeal supports ‘effective referral’ for morally contested procedures, including euthanasia


Court unanimously affirms right of state to compel participation in homicide, suicide, etc.

News Release

Protection of Conscience Project

On 15 May, 2019, three judges of the Ontario Court of Appeal unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that physicians can be forced to facilitate procedures they find morally objectionable, including euthanasia and assisted suicide, by connecting patients with willing providers (“effective referral”).

The Court of Appeal judgement concerned a 2018 decision by the Ontario Divisional Court that had been appealed by the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada and others. The litigation was a response to a compulsory “effective referral” policy imposed by Ontario’s state medical regulator, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

The Protection of Conscience Project, Catholic Civil Rights League and Faith and Freedom Alliance jointly intervened at trial and in the appeal in support of freedom of conscience.

The Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal both acknowledged the joint intervention, but neither considered the arguments it proposed because the case was decided solely on the basis of freedom of religion claims. The Court of Appeal held that the evidence at trial was “insufficient to support an analysis of freedom of conscience.”

“To the extent the individual appellants raise issues of conscience,” said the Court, “they are inextricably grounded in their religious beliefs,” so that, “at its core, the appellants’ claim is grounded in freedom of religion.”[para. 85]

Since the arguments in the Project’s intervention were not addressed at trial or in the appeal, Project Administrator Sean Murphy believes that they are unaffected by the decision.

“The focus of the Court was on religiously-motivated refusal to participate in perceived wrongdoing,” said Murphy. “The analytical framework proposed in the joint intervention could easily have been adapted and applied to that particular form of the exercise of religious freedom. The evidentiary record would have been sufficient for that purpose.”

“However, the Court did not do this, so the arguments still stand, and they can be raised again in another appropriate case.”

The decision demonstrates that the judges uncritically adopted the view of the College that euthanasia, assisted suicide, abortion, contraception, sterilization, sex change surgery, etc. are acceptable forms of medical treatment or health care. They further noted that abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide “carry the stigmatizing legacy of several centuries of criminalization grounded in religious and secular morality.” [para. 123]. On the other hand, they gave no weight to contrary views held by the plaintiffs.

The Court of Appeal also supported the College’s assertion that objecting physicians unwilling to comply with the demand for effective referral could change their scope of practice and move into fields like “sleep medicine, hair restoration, sport and exercise medicine, hernia repair, skin disorders . . . obesity medicine, aviation examinations, travel medicine . . . administrative medicine or surgical assistance.”[para. 71]

The appellants have 60 days to consider and appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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Contact: Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project
Email: protection@consciencelaws.org