What’s behind the demolition of conscience rights in Canada?


Margaret Somerville*

I’ve been puzzling about why Canadian “progressive” values advocates, particularly those passionately in favour of the legalization of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (“physician-assisted death” (PAD)), are so adamant in trying to force healthcare professionals and institutions who have conscience or religious objections to these procedures to become complicit in them.

Complicity would occur if objecting individual physicians were forced to provide “effective referrals” or objecting institutions were forced to allow PAD in their facilities. An “effective referral” is defined by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons as “a referral made in good faith, to a non-objecting, available, and accessible physician or other health-care provider.”

In general, progressive values advocates claim to give priority to rights to individual autonomy, choice, control over what happens to oneself, and tolerance for those who believe differently. Yet in relation to respect for the freedom of conscience and, where relevant, religious belief, of physicians or institutions who oppose PAD, none of these principles seem to be applied. Why? [Full text]

Hospitals should be able to opt out of doctor-assisted death, expert says

Ottawa Citizen

Elizabeth Payne

Neither doctors nor the institutions where they work should be forced to offer physician-assisted suicide, an expert on end-of-life decision making said Monday.

Judith Wahl, of Toronto’s Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, said Ontario should be able to create a system in which physician assisted death is accessible for those who qualify and want it, without forcing institutions and physicians to act against their beliefs.

“The provincial government can authorize those exemptions. I think people should be able to opt out and facilities should be able to opt out. I think we have to look at the system as a whole.”

With months to go until there is a law on physician assisted dying, the issue is already controversial. Catholic hospitals and health institutions across Ontario  –  including Bruyere Continuing Care in Ottawa  –  say they will not offer physician assisted death once it becomes law later this year. Bruyere is Ottawa’s only hospital with an acute palliative care ward. . . [Full text]


Belgian lawmakers to vote on world’s first death on demand law which would mean no doctor could stop a patient who wants to die

 Law is said to have high chance of getting support from parliamentarians

The Daily Mail

Steve Doughty

The world’s first ‘death on demand’ law is set to go before legislators in Belgium who have already ushered through an ultra-liberal euthanasia regime.

The new rules would mean no doctor would be allowed to block the wishes of a patient who asked to die.

The law – put forward by the country’s opposition socialist party – is thought to have a high chance of commanding support from a majority of parliamentarians.

They come at a time when numbers dying each year under the euthanasia laws have doubled in five years to reach more than 2,000. . . [Full text]


More bracket creep in Belgian euthanasia


Michael Cook

Three bills which could significantly expand the scope of euthanasia in Belgium have been proposed by Laurette Onkelinx, the leader of the Belgian Socialists and a former Deputy Prime Minister.

The first (PDF) would remove a five-year sunset clause for advance declaration of a patient’s willingness to accept euthanasia. This would mean that a document written 20 or 30 years before would be valid, no matter what a patient might have thought in recent times.

The second (PDF) would force doctors to give a rapid turn-around to requests for euthanasia. They would have to answer within seven days. If they refused, they would have to transfer the patient’s file to a doctor who would be willing to give a lethal injection. This threatens to remove physicians’ right to conscientious objection to euthanasia. It would also force doctors to treat a request as a matter of urgency, even though it might have come during a psychological crisis which would soon pass.

The third (PDF) would remove the right of institutions like hospitals or nursing homes to refuse to allow euthanasia on their premises. Ms Onkelinx insists that institutions have no right to conscientious objection; only doctors do. Her bill affirms a doctor’s right to follow his conscientious belief in the practice of euthanasia. In an explanatory memorandum, she invokes the principle that “a doctor can be neither forced to nor prevented from practicing euthanasia in legal conditions, wherever he might be.”

Although the proposals are radical, they have hardly been reported, even in the Belgian media.


cclicense-some-rightsThis article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation to BioEdge. Commercial media must contact BioEdge for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.