Action Life Ottawa is a non-denominational, non-profit organization dedicated to the defence of human life through education. We believe that all human beings have an equal right to life before and after birth and that society has the duty to uphold and protect that right. Our organization counts 4,000 supporters.
Concerning the consultation on freedom of conscience, Action Life holds that physicians should not be expected to refer or provide services to which the physician is opposed on conscientious or religious grounds. To force physicians to act against their conscience or religious beliefs would constitute coercion and reduces the role of the physician to that of a technician who must fulfill every patient demand. The physician is not merely a technician providing services to patients. He/she cannot be expected to leave his/her moral integrity at the door. A physician’s ethics are informed as well by medical and scientific knowledge. It is vital that a physician not be forced to refer for abortion or other procedures which the physician finds morally or ethically objectionable. Some of these procedures or services, the physician might find harmful to a patient’s health.
Consider the practice of euthanasia recently legalized in Québec, what does the future hold for physicians in Ontario regarding this practice? Many physicians would be opposed to referring or performing euthanasia if it were legalized. Freedom of conscience and religion must be respected.
Provisions in the Code should protect physicians in Ontario from coercion and discrimination. The Constitution of Canada recognizes freedom of religion and conscience and these rights are protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The policy of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) allows physicians to opt out of referrals for abortion. The present policy of the Canadian Medical Association is clear; physicians are under no obligation to provide or refer for abortion. In fact, the CMA’s policy on induced abortion states:
“A physician whose moral or religious beliefs prevent him or her from recommending or performing an abortion should inform the patient of this so that she may consult another physician. No discrimination should be directed against doctors who do not perform or assist at induced abortions. Respect for the right of personal decision in this area must be stressed, particularly for doctors training in obstetrics and gynecology and anesthesia.”
Attacks are mounting on the conscience rights of physicians. In 2007, a letter requesting a change to the CMA referral policy on abortion was sent by The National Abortion Federation an organization representing abortion providers in the U.S. and Canada. The National Abortion Federation was seeking a policy which would force physicians to refer for abortion. It received the following response from Dr. Colin McMillan, then President of the CMA who wrote “The CMA’s policy on induced abortion does not violate our Code of Ethics…Nor does it treat women unfairly or impede their access to critical health care.”
A controversy arose in 2006 when a guest editorial by two professors, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal of July 4, stated in relation to induced abortion that “Health care professionals who …fail to provide appropriate referrals…are committing malpractice and risk lawsuits and disciplinary proceedings.” In response, the Journal published a letter from the CMA’s Director of Ethics clarifying that the CMA policy on abortion did not require physicians to refer for abortions if doing so would be a violation of their conscience.
The Ontario Medical Association, in response to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario‘s draft policy in 2008 stated:
“It is the OMA’s position that physicians maintain a right to exercise their own moral judgment and freedom of choice in making decisions regarding medical care and that the CPSO not insert itself into the interpretation of human rights statutes.”
We would agree with the Ontario Medical Association that “…it should never be professional misconduct for an Ontario physician to act in accordance with his or her religious or moral beliefs.” Action Life calls on the College of Physicians and Surgeons to strengthen measures to ensure the right of physicians to practice medicine in accordance with their conscience or religious beliefs.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this issue.
Action Life Ottawa