Physician  freedom of conscience in Sasktachewan

Sean Murphy*

Abstract

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]

What happens when a patient’s right to die and a doctor’s right to refuse collide?

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Jonathan Charlton

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan is set to finalize a policy to guide the province’s doctors on the controversial issue of doctor assisted death.

While the Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the old law forbidding the service, the former Conservative government didn’t introduce new legislation. The new Liberal government, meanwhile, could ask for an extension to the court’s Feb. 6, 2016 deadline.

However, the College doesn’t want doctors in the province to be stranded without any guidance, hence its own policy, which could be finalized at the College’s meeting Friday.

Associate registrar Bryan Salte walked the Saskatoon StarPhoenix through the complex issue. This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. [Full text]

Related:

Project submission re: conscientious objection policy

Project to Saskatchewan regulator: no evidence to support limitation of fundamental freedoms

Draft policy attacks character, competence of physicians

News Release

Protection of Conscience Project

Project to Saskatchewan regulator: no evidence to support limitation of fundamental freedomsFor the third time this year, the Protection of Conscience Project has criticized a draft policy proposed by officials of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan who want to control the exercise of freedom of conscience and religion by physicians.  The draft policy, Conscientious Objection, was approved in principle by the College Council on 19 June and released for a public consultation that ended on 7 August.

Citing Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Project states that “the limits proposed in Conscientious Objection are neither reasonable nor demonstrably justified” because the College had no evidence that conscientious objection by Saskatchewan physicians has ever deprived anyone of access medical services or adversely affected anyone’s health.

The Project submission calls Conscientious Objection unacceptable  “because it attacks the character and competence of objecting physicians, and it nullifies their freedom of conscience by compelling them to arrange for patients to obtain services to which they object.”

This has become of particular concern because physician assisted suicide and physician administered euthanasia will be legal in Canada in February of next year.  The draft policy states that it does not apply to those services, but the Project submission rejects that disclaimer, calling it “ill-advised and misleading.”

Among other things, the Project points out that, even after the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the legalization of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, the College’s Associate Registrar “defended the proposition that physicians should be disciplined or fired if they refuse to at least help to find someone willing to kill patients or help them commit suicide.”

The disclaimer was added only after it became clear that the policy faced overwhelming opposition, either as a tactic to secure the approval of the policy, or because some of its supporters began to realize the policy’s implications.

The submission warns the College that a policy on conscientious objection should be flexible enough to apply to requests for assisted suicide and euthanasia.

” If Council is uncertain how this can be done, it should postpone policy development concerning Conscientious Objection until after the Carter decision comes into force in 2016.”

The Project also strongly criticizes the policy because it suggests that physicians who refuse to do what they believe to be wrong cannot be trusted.

“Solely on the basis of their beliefs,” the submission notes, “it implies that they are unacceptably biased and effectively prohibits objecting physicians from communicating with their patients about morally contested procedures.”

Instead, the policy demands that they refer their patients to someone who can provide “full and balanced health information,” apparently assuming that physicians who have moral viewpoints are incapable of properly communicating with patients.

“But all physicians have moral viewpoints,” the Project reminds the College. “Conscientious Objection simply exchanges one kind of ‘bias’ for another.”

The Project submission includes an alternative policy that protects physician freedom of conscience and religion but does not obstruct patient access to services, including euthanasia and assisted suicide.  The alternative draws on the CPSS draft policy, the Canadian Medical Association Code of Ethics, and a joint statement by the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Healthcare Association, Canadian Nurses’ Association, and Catholic Health Association of Canada.

The proposed CPSS policy has also been criticized by the Christian Medical and Dental Societies, the Federation of Catholic Physicians Societies of Canada and Canadian Physicians for Life.   Their joint submission states that Conscientious Objection “does not adequately deal with physicians’ human rights” and “does not accurately reflect the law.”

Project Submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan

Re: Conscientious Objection

Abstract

Conscientious Objection is unacceptable because it attacks the character and competence of objecting physicians, and it nullifies their freedom of conscience by compelling them to arrange for patients to obtain services to which they object.

Council has been given no evidence that anyone in Saskatchewan has ever been unable to access medical services or that the health of anyone in Saskatchewan has ever been adversely affected because a physician has declined to provide or refer for a procedure for reasons of conscience. In the absence of such evidence, the limits proposed in Conscientious Objection are neither reasonable nor demonstrably justified.

Conscientious Objection is not justified by the principles included in the policy because there is no necessary connection between the principles and a policy requiring physicians to do what they believe to be wrong. The principles can be applied to force physicians to facilitate morally contested procedures only if they are ideologically interpreted in order to impose one world view at the expense of others. The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously affirmed that such an approach is unacceptable.

It is unrealistic to believe that the approach taken in Conscientious Objection will not be taken with respect to physician administered euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. The disclaimer to the contrary is ill-advised and misleading. A policy on Conscientious Objection should be sufficiently flexible to apply to direct or indirect participation in killing patients or helping them commit suicide. If Council is uncertain how this can be done, it should postpone policy development concerning Conscientious Objection until after the Carter decision comes into force in 2016.

Alternatively, if the College believes that some kind of guidance should be provided with respect to this contentious issue, the Project offers an alternative that protects physician freedom of conscience and religion but does not obstruct patient access to services, including euthanasia and assisted suicide.


Contents

I.    Introduction

II.    Overview of this submission

III.    Limitation of fundamental freedoms

IV.    “Purpose” and “Principles”

V.    Scope of Conscientious Objection

V.1    The disclaimer

V.2    Dissecting the disclaimer

V.3    Summary

V.4    Recommendations

VI.    Physician obligations

5.1    Taking on new patients (Comment)

5.2    Providing information to patients

5.3    Exercise of freedom of conscience and religion

5.4    Necessary treatments to prevent harm to patients

Appendix “A” – Conscientious Objection– “Purpose” and “Principles”: Comment and critique

A1.    Introduction

A2.    “The fiduciary relationship between a physician and a patient.”

A3.    “Patient autonomy.”

A4.    “A patient’s right to continuity of care.”
“Patients should not be disadvantaged or left without appropriate care due to the personal beliefs of their physicians.”
“Physicians have an obligation not to abandon their patients.”

A5.    “A patient’s right to information about their care.”
“Physicians have an obligation to provide full and balanced health information, referrals and health services to their patients in a non-discriminatory fashion.”

A6.    “Physicians should not intentionally or unintentionally create barriers to patient care.”
“Physicians have an obligation not to interfere with or obstruct a patient’s right to access legally permissible and publicly-funded health services.”

A7.    “The College has a responsibility to impose reasonable limits on a physician’s ability to refuse to provide care where those limits are appropriate.”

A8.    “Medical care should be equitably available to patients whatever the patient’s situation, to the extent that can be achieved.”

A9.    “The College of Physicians and Surgeons has an obligation to serve and protect the public interest.”

A10.    “The Canadian medical profession as a whole has an obligation to ensure that people have access to the provision of legally permissible and publicly-funded health services.”

A11.    “Physicians’ freedom of conscience should be respected.”

A12.    “Physicians’ exercise of freedom of conscience to limit the health services that they provide should not impede, either directly or indirectly, access to legally permissible and publicly-funded health services.”

A13.    “Physicians’ exercise of freedom of conscience to limit the services that they provide to patients should be done in a manner that respects patient dignity, facilitates access to care and protects patient safety.”

A14.    Summary

Appendix “B” – Scope of Conscientious Objection
Purported non-applicability of policy to assisted suicide, euthanasia

B1.    Disclaimer

B2.    Disclaimer inconsistent with opinion of the CMPA

B3.    Disclaimer inconsistent with policy origin, previous statements

B4.    Disclaimer inconsistent with links between abortion and euthanasia

B5.    Principles support coercion of physicians to facilitate euthanasia

B5.3    “The fiduciary relationship between a physician and a patient.”

B5.4    “Patient autonomy.”

B5.5   “A patient’s right to continuity of care.”
“Patients should not be disadvantaged or left without appropriate care due to the personal beliefs of their physicians.”
“Physicians have an obligation not to abandon their patients.”

B5.6    “Physicians should not intentionally or unintentionally create barriers to patient care.”
“Physicians have an obligation not to interfere with or obstruct a patient’s right to access legally permissible and publicly funded health services.”
“Physicians’ exercise of freedom of conscience to limit the health services that they provide should not impede, either directly or indirectly, access to legally permissible and publicly-funded health services.”

B5.7    “Medical care should be equitably available to patients whatever the patient’s situation, to the extent that can be achieved.”

B5.8    “The College has a responsibility to impose reasonable limits on a physician’s ability to refuse to provide care where those limits are appropriate.”

B5.9    “The College of Physicians and Surgeons has an obligation to serve and protect the public interest. The Canadian Medical Profession as a whole has an obligation to ensure that people have access to the provision of legally permissible and publicly-funded health services.”

B6.    Unsatisfactory reasons offered to support the disclaimer

B6.1    Questioning the reasons

B6.2    Answering the questions

Appendix “C” – Conscientious Objection – 5.  Physician Obligations
Comment and Critque

C1.    5. Obligations (Project alternative)

5.1    Taking on new patients

5.2    Providing information to patients

5.3    Exercise of freedom of conscience and religion

5.4    Necessary treatments to prevent harm to patients

C2.    Conscientious Objection and Project alternative compared

Table A. Taking on new patients

Table B.  Providing information to patients

Table C.  Exercise of freedom of conscience and religion

Table D.  Necessary treatments to prevent harm to patients

C3.    Commentary corresponding to the tables in C2

Table A  5.1 Taking on new patients

Table B  5.2 Providing information to patients

Table C  5.3 Exercise of freedom of conscience and religion

Table D  5.4 Necessary treatments to prevent harm to patients.

Sask MDs, doctors’ groups ask for a hearing by College of Physicians and Surgeons

News Release

Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada

SASKATOON, June 17, 2015 /CNW/ – Larry Worthen, Executive Director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada (CMDS), urged the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (CPSS), today, to support freedom of conscience when they meet on Friday, June 19th, to consider a policy on conscientious objection. CMDS and other doctors’ groups are asking for a meeting with the College’s drafting committee to express their concerns.

Said Larry Worthen, “To ask physicians to act against deeply held moral convictions would be a clear infringement on physicians’ rights to the Section 2 fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The College’s Associate Registrar Brian Salte has ties to the Conscience Research Project led by one of Canada’s leading proponents of abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, and Mr. Salte has attended briefings of that group. We ask that the College would give us equal time to present our side of the argument and hear concerns about how this policy will affect patient care in Saskatchewan.”

Previous CPSS policy drafts required that physicians refer patients for procedures even when performing such procedures went against the moral convictions of the physician. Under the drafts, physicians would even be forced to actually perform procedures even though to do so would go against strongly held moral and religious convictions. Physicians who refused to comply would be vulnerable to sanctions up to and including losing their licences.

“No one’s interests are served by effectively disqualifying certain Saskatchewan physicians from the practice of medicine,” said Worthen.

Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant physicians hold grave concerns about the negative effects when they are forced to act against their consciences.

“Going against one’s conscience can cause moral distress which has been shown to affect patient care adversely. We need to have physicians who are free to bring their whole selves to their patients, including their compassion and their ethics,” said Mary Deutscher, member of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon Justice and Peace Commission. “For Catholic physicians, participation in a formal referral makes them an accomplice in the procedure. This position is supported by many evangelical Protestant experts and other groups as well.”

This is also reflected in the positions of CMDS, Canadian Physicians for Life (CPL) and the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies (CFCPS).

“Should the College choose to adopt this policy, it would assume the role of judge and jury deciding who could or could not exercise their constitutionally protected rights,” said Faye Sonier, CPL’s General Legal Counsel. “Physicians who cannot perform certain procedures due to their beliefs would become a class of citizens who fall outside the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

“Physicians who hold conscientious objections do so with profound respect for both the well-being and the autonomy of their patients. Their conscientious objections also stem from a deep commitment to the Hippocratic Oath,” said Dr. Thomas Bouchard, M.D., of the CFCPS. “In debates about conscience rights, the debate is often framed as a competition between the rights of a patient to access services versus the conscience of a physician. But physicians in these circumstances do not care solely about their conscience rights. These physicians also care deeply about the good of their patients.”

Self-referral is already a commonly exercised option among patients, including in respect of abortion services, across most of Saskatchewan. Self-referral allows the doctor to avoid being involved in facilitating the provision of the service, and the patient gets prompt access to the service.

A public opinion survey conducted May 20th-27th by Abingdon Research indicated that when a patient and doctor have different views on best treatment because of the doctor’s moral convictions, 47.5% of the Saskatchewan public felt that a patient could seek further advice or help from a different doctor without a formal referral, compared with 44.1% who felt the doctor should provide a formal referral. More than 53% of Saskatchewan residents felt that “nothing should happen to the doctor” who was unwilling to provide a treatment or a referral for reasons of moral conviction.

“Doctors represented by our groups are willing to discuss all procedures with their patients in a caring and objective way. We simply ask that when the patient makes a decision that the doctor cannot support for moral reasons that the patient access another service provider directly,” added Dr. Sheila Harding, M.D., a Saskatoon haematologist. “I have heard of many cases where doctor and patient agree to disagree and the patient returns to the physician’s practice after the procedure. If anything, the physician-patient relationship was enhanced.”

CMDS (Christian Medical and Dental Society) represents some 1600 physicians and dentists across Canada (cmdscanada.org). The Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies (canadiancatholicphysicians.com) represents groups from across Canada. Canadian Physicians for Life (physiciansforlife.ca is the national association of pro-life physicians and provides resources and educational opportunities to thousands of physicians and medical students each year.

SOURCE Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada

For further information: Larry Worthen at 902-880-2495. Larry is available for interviews in Saskatoon after 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, June 17th, until Noon, Saturday, June 20th.