Alberta’s conscience rights bill

Western Standard
Reproduced with permission

John Carpay

Alberta’s conscience rights bill Bill 207 enshrines “freedom of conscience and religion” – protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms– for Alberta’s health care providers. For many years, Premier Jason Kenney has consistently and publicly supported protecting freedom of conscience, so nobody should be surprised if he supports this Private Member’s Bill.

Bill 207 will not limit patient access to abortion. Firstly, abortion does not require a referral, as any abortion clinic will tell you when you call and ask. Secondly, even if abortion did require a referral, if one physician refuses to provide such referral then the patient would simply go to another doctor. Inconvenient? Yes, absolutely. In a free country, the right to honour one’s conscience trumps someone else’s interest in not being inconvenienced.

Forcing someone to do something that they believe to be wrong is serious business. It is also a hallmark of totalitarian states. But in free and democratic societies, the government will bend over backwards to avoid coercing citizens to participate in what they see as evil. This is why the Charter describes freedom of conscience and religion as “fundamental,” and mentions it ahead of the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

When a democracy is at war, the pacifists who oppose killing another human being will not be required by government to serve on the front lines and shoot at foreign troops. A democracy can continue with its war efforts without requiring every citizen to be willing to kill enemy soldiers.

Just because pork is legal and popular does not mean that all butchers should be forced, by law, to sell it. Some Muslim and Orthodox Jewish butchers will refuse to handle or sell pork, and no doubt this refusal will inconvenience some customers. The disappointed customers will need to go elsewhere, upon learning that the store they travelled to does not carry what they want.

The BC Human Rights Tribunal recently issued a pro-freedom ruling that female estheticians could refuse to wax the male genitalia of Jessica (Jonathan) Yaniv, for religious and other reasons. Yaniv will be inconvenienced by having to locate a waxologist who is willing and able to provide a Brazilian bikini wax for male genitals. But not forcing women to handle male genitalia is more important than sparing someone the inconvenience of going elsewhere.

Put simply: in a free society, you do not have the right to require other people to do things that they do not wish to do. In a free country, nobody has a legal right to be free from the inconvenience of needing to look elsewhere for a product or service. This respect for freedom is consistent with – or is supposed to be consistent with – the philosophy of the United Conservative Party.

Bill 207 protects doctors from being required to assist their patients in committing suicide, as one example of a medical service that some doctors see as wrong. Many non-religious doctors believe on conscientious grounds that suicide is not a valid or legitimate medical treatment.

Providing a referral is active participation. This is why the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario prohibits doctors from performing female genital mutilation (FGM) and also prohibits doctors from referring for this medical service. If it’s wrong to remove portions of a young girl’s genitals, then it’s also wrong to refer her to another doctor who will provide that same service.  As in Ontario, Alberta’s College states that “no physician should perform such procedures, irrespective of cultural norms in other societies, and no physician should be complicit in allowing such procedures to go ahead.” To refer for FGM is to be complicit in FGM. Requiring doctors to refer for a service they believe to be wrong is to violate the conscience of doctors.

And yet the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons requires doctors to refer for assisted suicide. Bill 207 addresses this problem by protecting the fundamental Charter freedoms of doctors and other health care providers. A vote for Bill 2017 is a vote for freedom.

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