By Faye Sonier
Editor’s note. Dr. Gabel is Member of Council and Past President of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. He is the chair of the College’s policy working group which issued the draft “Professional Obligations and Human Rights” policy. Faye Sonier is Legal Counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
Dear Dr. Marc Gabel,
I just read this article which was published in the Catholic Register. You were quoted in the piece. Here is an excerpt:
Catholic doctors who won’t perform abortions or provide abortion referrals should leave family medicine, says an official of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.
“It may well be that you would have to think about whether you can practice family medicine as it is defined in Canada and in most of the Western countries,” said Dr. Marc Gabel, chair of the college’s policy working group reviewing “Professional Obligations and Human Rights.”
The Ontario doctor’s organization released a draft policy Dec. 11 that would require all doctors to provide referrals for abortions, morning-after pills and contraception. The revised policy is in response to evolving obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code, Gabel said.
There have been no Ontario Human Rights Tribunal decisions against doctors for failing to refer for abortion or contraception.
Gabel said there’s plenty of room for conscientious Catholics in various medical specialties, but a moral objection to abortion and contraception will put family doctors on the wrong side of human rights legislation and current professional practice.
“Medicine is an amazingly wide profession with many, many areas to practice medicine,” he said.
Yes, medicine is “an amazingly wide profession.” Thankfully, it is also a profession which attracts an “amazingly wide” array of Canadians. Of those Canadian physicians are some who share my pro-life perspective. They may refuse to refer for abortion due to their conscience, but they may also refuse to refer due to their religious beliefs (or both – we’re working out what this means under the Charter). They may be Christian, Muslim, Jewish or atheist physicians but they have an issue with abortion or contraceptives. For them, to refer for this procedure or these drugs is to be complicit in the actions and their consequences.
I am an Ontario resident. I’m a cancer survivor. I’m a mother. I have spent far more than my fair share of time in Ontario hospitals and clinics being treated by wonderful Ontario doctors.
Over the last few years, I’ve gone out of my way to work with pro-life physicians who share my perspective. I reject the notion that killing and dismembering unborn children is medicine, and I wanted to work with physicians who share my values regarding human life and human dignity. Due to the “amazingly wide” practice of medicine in Ontario, I was able to find a few, and become their patient. I am so thankful for their care.
But due to your working group’s proposed new policy, I might lose my family physicians. They will choose to practice medicine in a province that respects both their skills and their rights, rather than sacrifice their conscience or their sincerely held religious beliefs.
I’m also a human rights lawyer. The College’s reasoning for stripping physicians of their conscience and religious rights is not based on law. Your working group received a number of submissions on that point, so I’ll leave you to review them with your legal counsel. The doctors seeking to exercise their freedoms have a leg to stand on. Heck, they have Canadian and Ontario human rights law on their side.
Of great concern to me is the definition of “discrimination” which you provided when interviewed:
“We’re saying that the discrimination occurs when you are not acting in the best interest of the patient,” said Gabel. “When you are not communicating effectively or respectfully about this with the patient, when you’re not managing conflicts, when you differ from the patient and when you are not respecting the patient’s dignity and ensuring their access to care and protecting their safety. That’s the issue.”
Dr. Gabel, this is not the definition of “discrimination” at law. If someone chooses to make up definitions for words, they are free to do so. (My son, for example, seems to think that “babagaba” is a verb which means “to chew on mommy’s ankle.”)
However, for a body like the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to create a new definition of “discrimination” which will result in the stripping of legal and human rights of some of their members is shocking, and this new definition will not stand up in a court of law. I urge the College to abide by Canadian and Ontario law.
Dr. Gabel, I suspect you are well intentioned and a kind and caring psychotherapist, like so many of the wonderful doctors who have treated me over the years. But please don’t force my physicians from the province with your policy. My family depends on their expertise and professionalism. I like to see my own values reflected in the “amazingly wide” practice of medicine in Ontario. For someone like myself, a religious minority, this is very important.
The membership of your College is broad and wide enough to include some family physicians who happen to hold pro-life positions. If it is not, it should be.