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]

Court challenge raises issue of “reasonable apprehension of bias”

Sean Murphy*

Documents filed in an important Canadian court case bring into question the value and purpose of “public consultations” held by medical regulators, at least in the province of Ontario.

In March, 2015, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) approved a highly controversial policy, Professional Obligations and Human Rights.  The policy requires physicians  to facilitate services or procedures to which they object for reasons of conscience by making an “effective referral” to a colleague or agency willing to provide the service.  A constitutional challenge to the policy was dismissed by  the Ontario Divisonal Court in 2018.[1] An appeal of that ruling will be heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal on January 21-22, 2019.

Among the thousands of pages filed with the trial court are a number dealing with the public consultation conducted by the CPSO from 10 December, 2014 to 20 February, 2015.  In response to its invitation to stakeholders and the public, the CPSO received 9,262 submissions about the proposal, the great majority of which opposed it.[2]

College officials  finalized the wording of the policy on 19 January, 2015,[3]   a month before the consultation ended; only about 565 submissions would have been received by then.[4]  727 submissions had been received  by the time the policy was sent to the Executive Committee on 28 January,[5]  which promptly endorsed it and forwarded it to the College Council for final approval.[6]

According to the briefing note supplied to the Council, by 11 February, 2015 the College had received 3,105 submissions.[7]  Thus, the final version of the policy was written and approved by the College Executive before about  90% of the submissions in the second consultation had been received.

Submissions received by CPSO from 10 Dec 2014 to 20 Feb 2015

During the first 40 days ending 11 February, the College received an average of about 18 submissions per day.  Assuming someone spent eight full hours every working day reading the submissions, about 22 minutes could have been devoted to each.  Three staff members dedicated to the task could have inceased this average to about an hour, so the first 700 submissions could conceivably have received appropriate attention.

Time available for analysis of submissions

However, this seems unlikely in the case of more than 8,000 submissions received later.

By 11 February about 183 submissions were arriving at the College every day, increasing to about 684 daily in the last ten days of the consultation – one every two minutes.   A College staffer working eight hours daily without a break could have spent no more than about two minutes on each submission, and only about one minute on each of those received in the last ten days  – over 65% of the total.

A minute or two was likely sufficient if College officials deemed consultation results irrelevant because they had already decided the outcome.  This conclusion is consistent with the finalization and approval of the policy  by the six member College Executive (which included the Chair of the  working group that wrote it [8]).  To do this weeks before the consultation closed was contrary to normal practice.  CPSO policy manager Andréa Foti stated that working groups submit revised drafts to the Executive Committee  after public consultations close[9] – not before.

One would expect government agencies that invite submissions on important legal and public policy issues would allow sufficient time to review and analyse all of the feedback received before making decisions. The CPSO’s failure to do so does not reflect institutional respect for thousands of individuals and groups who responded in good faith to its invitation to comment on the draft policy.  Rather, such conduct invites a reasonable apprehension of bias that is unacceptable in the administration of public institutions.

1. The Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada v. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, 2018 ONSC 579 (Can LII)  [CMDS v CPSO].

2. CMDS v CPSO, supra note 1  (Respondent’s Application Record, Volume 1, Tab 1, Affidavit of Andréa Foti [Foti] at para 121.

3.    Foti, supra note 2 at para 133.

4. Estimated daily average based on the total received by 28 January (727).

5. CMDS v CPSO, supra note 1  (Respondent’s Application Record, Volume 4, Tab WW, Exhibit “WW” attached to the Affidavit of Andréa Foti: Executive Committee Briefing Note (February, 2015) (CPSO Exhibit WW) at 1724.

6. CMDS v CPSO, supra note 1  (Respondent’s Application Record, Volume 4, Tab XX, Exhibit “XX” attached to the Affidavit of Andréa Foti: Proceedings of the Executive Committee – Minutes – 3 February, 2015) (CPSO Exhibit XX) at 1746-1748.

7. “Council Briefing Note: Professional Obligations and Human Rights – Consultation Report & Revised Draft Policy (For Decision)” [CPSO Briefing Note 2015].  In College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, “Annual Meeting of Council, March 6, 2015” at 61.

8. Dr. Marc Gabel. See CPSO Exhibit WW, supra note 4 at 1722 (note 1), and CPSO Exhibit XX, supra note 5 at 1746.

9. Foti, supra note 2 at para 36.

Doctors Have an Alarmingly High Suicide Rate, and No One Is Sure How to Help Them

Gizmodo

Ed Cara

Medical doctors are more likely to die from suicide than members of any other profession in the US, suggests new research presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. And worse than that, few interventions seem to have helped make these suicides less common.

Studies have consistently shown that doctors die from suicide at a higher rate annually than people in any other profession, and some research has found that a majority of medical professionals suffer from serious work stress and burnout. But the authors behind this latest work wanted to not only get a clearer picture of how often these deaths happen, but whether any programs have successfully helped lowered rates. So they examined relevant, peer-reviewed studies dealing with both issues over the past 10 years. . . [Full Text]

Two-thirds of GPs will refuse to provide abortion pills

Doctors voted in closed forum to rule themselves out of service

Irish Independent

Eilish O’Regan

A majority of GPs say they will not provide abortion pills to women in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy if it becomes law, according to a survey of family doctors.

Nearly seven in 10 of the 497 GPs who voted in a closed doctors’ forum said they would not be involved in medical abortions.

Around 15.7pc said they would provide the service and 16.1pc were “unsure”.

The doctors are among 3,700 GPs who are registered with GPBuddy.ie, the online medical directory designed by GPs for Irish healthcare professionals.

They responded to a series of questions on the confidential forum.

Although the survey has its limitations, it indicates that, if rolled out nationwide, it would mean a substantial number of GPs would opt out of the abortion service.

However, they would be obliged to refer a woman seeking an abortion to a doctor who provides the procedure. . . [Full Text]

Catholic leaders attack ‘erosion of respect’ for doctors who oppose abortion

Christian Today

Harry Farley

Catholic heads in the UK are issuing a robust defence of the Church’s abortion teaching after criticism of bishops’ stance from within the Catholic hierarchy.

Describing having a termination as a ‘grave decision’ the two leaders of the Catholic Church in England, Wales and Scotland attack the ‘contradiction’ in abortion laws for disabled babies and praised politicians who try to change the law.

They also lambast an ‘erosion of respect’ for those who oppose abortion, saying doctors and nurses ‘face increasing difficulty in being able to combine their dedicated professional work with their personal conviction’.

Pointing to recent cases where doctors and pharmacists feel they cannot refuse to offer abortion services, the senior bishops write: ‘So much talent is being lost to important professional areas. Personal conscience is inviolable and no-one should be forced to act against their properly formed conscience in these matters. This is something which needs greater debate in our society.’ . . . [Full Text]