The Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons in the provinces of Ontario and Saskatchewan have introduced draft policies which if passed would require physicians to refer for services to which they object even if doing so would violate their conscience. We can think of referrals for abortion or euthanasia if euthanasia is legalized in Canada. Such policies in our view would trample on the freedom of conscience and religion rights of physicians . Both colleges are seeking submissions from the public regarding the proposed changes. For more information, please read the press release below:
Protection of Conscience Project
Policy wording supplied by abortion and euthanasia activists
Policy would apply to euthanasia, if legalized.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan proposing a draft policy demanding that physicians who object to “legally permissible and publicly-funded health services” must direct patients to colleagues who will provide them. If another physician is unavailable, the College demands that they provide “legally permissible and publicly-funded” services, even if doing so “conflicts with physicians’ deeply held and considered moral or religious beliefs.”
Physicians usually refuse to participate in abortion because they believe it is wrong to kill what the criminal law refers to as a child that has not become a human being.1 The proposed policy will require them to find a physician willing to do the killing they won’t do. Should the Supreme Court of Canada legalize euthanasia, the policy will require objecting physicians who refuse to kill patients to find someone who will.
The seamless fit between referral for abortion and referral for euthanasia is not surprising. The draft College policy was largely written by abortion and euthanasia activists, notably Professor Jocelyn Downie of Dalhousie University.
In a 2006 guest editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Professor Downie and another law professor claimed that objecting physicians are obliged to refer patients for abortion.2 Their views were vehemently rejected by physicians and repudiated by the Canadian Medical Association.3 Partly as a result of the negative response, Professor Downie and her colleagues in the “Conscience Research Group” decided to convince Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons to impose it.4
Saskatchewan’s draft policy is taken almost verbatim from their “Model Conscientious Objection Policy.”
The Conscience Research Group is a tax-funded initiative that includes Professors Downie and Daniel Weinstock.5 Both were members of an “expert panel” that recommended that health care professionals who object to killing patients should be compelled to refer patients to someone who would,6 because (they claimed) it is agreed that they can be compelled to refer for “reproductive health services.”7
Current efforts by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to suppress freedom of conscience in the medical profession may have been influenced by the Conscience Research Group. However, the College in Saskatchewan is the first to copy and paste its preferred model into a draft policy.
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 approved the policy in principle, but will accept feedback on it until 6 March, 2015.
- Criminal Code, Section 238(1). (Accessed 2014-12-02)
- Rodgers S. Downie J. “Abortion: Ensuring Access.” CMAJ July 4, 2006 vol. 175 no. 1 doi: 10.1503/cmaj.060548 (Accessed 2014-12-02).
- Blackmer J. Clarification of the CMA’s position on induced abortion. CMAJ April 24, 2007 vol. 176 no. 9 doi: 10.1503/cmaj.1070035 (Accessed 2014-02-22)
- McLeod C, Downie J. “Let Conscience Be Their Guide? Conscientious Refusals in Health Care.” Bioethics ISSN 0269-9702 (print); 1467-8519 (online) doi:10.1111/bioe.12075 Volume 28 Number 1 2014 pp ii–iv
- Let their conscience be their guide? Conscientious refusals in reproductive health care: Meet the team.(Accessed 2014-11-21)
- Schuklenk U, van Delden J.J.M, Downie J, McLean S, Upshur R, Weinstock D. Report of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on End-of-Life Decision Making (November, 2011) p. 101 (Accessed 2014-02-23)
- Schuklenk U, van Delden J.J.M, Downie J, McLean S, Upshur R, Weinstock D. Report of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on End-of-Life Decision Making (November, 2011) p. 62 (Accessed 2014-02-23)
(Sean Murphy) Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project
7120 Tofino St.
Canada V8A 1G3