Canadian MP introduces protection of conscience bill

Bill C-268 (2016)  Protection of Freedom of Conscience Act

Sean Murphy*

Conservative Member of Parliament Kelly Block has introduced a bill that would make it a crime to coerce medical or nurse practitioners or other health professionals to take part, directly or indirectly, in “medical assistance in dying.” The preamble of the bill makes clear that it is intended as a protection of conscience measure.

The text of the bill is much the same as a bill proposed by MP Mark Warawa in 2016.

“Medical assistance in dying” means euthanasia and assisted suicide provided by physicians or nurse practitioners. Since it is considered medical treatment in Canada, it falls within provincial jurisdiction over health care. Similarly, provinces have primary jurisdiction over human rights like freedom of conscience. Thus, the federal government has been easily able to refuse amendments like this on the grounds that they unconstitutionally trespass on provincial jursidiction.

The federal government has constitutional jursidiction in criminal law and could make it a crime to compel someone to be a party to homicide and suicide. Since “medical assistance in dying” is non-culpable homicide and non-cuplpable assisted suicide, such a law would provide protection for health care professionals unwilling to be parties to killing their patients or helping them commit suicide, without intruding upon provincial jurisdiction.

The Protection of Conscience Project has repeatedly made this suggestion to Canadian parliamentarians, but its submissions have been ignored.

It is remarkable that the Canadian government clearly believes it is acceptable to compel citizens to become parties to homicide — killing other people — and punish them if they refuse. It is, perhaps, even more remarkable that Canadians are unwilling to talk openly about this.