Freedom of Conscience for pro-life physicians under siege in Canada


By Dave Andrusko

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario

It’s been a truly rough patch of water for pro-lifers in Canada recently. The latest wave of bad news is a draft policy just released by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario which mandates that pro-life doctors refer patients seeking an abortion to another physician. Failure to do so would expose a pro-life doctor to professional misconduct sanctions.

It is described by its proponents as an attempt to find “a middle ground.”

According to the Star newspaper

[Dr. Marc] Gabel, past president of College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, said doctors would have to make an “effective, good faith referral” when sending a patient to another physician.

“There are very few small towns that are not close enough to a hospital to handle this,” Gabel said. “I think that an effective referral is possible in almost all situations.”

Gabel said that a doctor who balked at following the code would face professional misconduct sanctions.

But the “Protection of Conscience Project” vigorously opposed the proposed guidelines, both for what it would do and how the policy might be extended. The following is its statement:

Ontario physicians to be forced to do what they believe to be wrong
Draft policy demands that objectors provide or refer.

Policy would apply to euthanasia, if legalized.

A draft policy of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario demands that physicians must provide services to prevent imminent “harm, suffering and/or deterioration,” even if doing so is contrary to their moral beliefs.

Should the Supreme Court of Canada legalize euthanasia, the policy will require objecting physicians to lethally inject patients themselves if a delay would result in “harm” or “suffering.” In less urgent circumstances, the policy will require physicians unwilling to kill patients to promptly refer them to “a non-objecting, available physician or other health-care provider.”

However, many physicians who object to killing patients for reasons of conscience would also object to referral. Dr. Charles Bernard, President of Quebec’s Collège des médecins, has explained that mandatory referral effectively nullifies freedom of conscience: “It is as if you did it anyway.”

Dr. Bernard was talking about Quebec’s euthanasia law, but the same principle holds with respect to abortion – another procedure that involves killing.

Prominent academics and activists want to force objecting physicians to provide or refer for abortion and contraception. They and others have led increasingly strident campaigns to suppress freedom of conscience among physicians to achieve that goal. The College’s draft policy clearly reflects their influence.

However, crusades against physicians who refuse to provide or refer for abortion are dress rehearsals for eventual campaigns against physicians who refuse to kill patients. It is not a coincidence that activists who would force objecting physicians to facilitate abortion also intend to force objectors to refer for euthanasia – and for the same reasons.2

The Project insists that it is incoherent and contrary to sound public policy to include a requirement to do what one believes to be wrong in a professional code of ethics. It is also an affront to the best traditions of liberal democracy, and, ultimately, dangerous.

The College Council has tentatively approved the policy, but will accept further public input until February 20, 2015 before imposing it on Ontario physicians.

Just how absolute the draft policy is came across in two ways. First, there were the comments Dr. Gabel gave to the Globe and Mail newspaper where he said that objecting physicians “cannot use unfounded medical reasons” [whatever that means] to deny to perform abortions.

“What we’re trying to do, I think, is set a tone to remind physicians and the public we will act professionally in ensuring their access to care and their safety.”

Second, and even more ominous, were the observations of Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba. The Globe and Mail paraphrased him as saying

the policy does not go nearly far enough. He argues that doctors who allow their personal convictions to enter the conversation will alienate patients and make it difficult to have an open, honest relationship about important issues relating to health such as sexual behaviour and alcohol or drug use