OTTAWA — A group representing several thousand Christian physicians is expressing concern that a new federal law on physician-assisted death could force them to perform, or refer patients to a physician who will perform, legalized euthanasia.
Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, and Larry Worthen, the executive director of Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada testified Wednesday evening before a parliamentary committee on physician-assisted dying.
The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law against assisted suicide in 2015. (Photo: Shutterstock)
The committee has until the end of the month to report back on how the federal government should respond to a 2015 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that Criminal Code provisions that prevented anyone from aiding or abetting someone in committing suicide breached an individual’s Charter rights. The court gave the federal government one year to pass new legislation but recently extended that deadline to June.
While the Supreme Court said it did not propose to compel physicians to provide assistance in dying and said legislatures needed to reconcile patients and physicians Charter rights, Collins and Worthen both said they believe legislation is needed to protect physicians who do not wish to patients end their lives.
“We do not agree with assisted suicide and euthanasia. We think implementing them in the country is not a good path to go on, it will cause great harm,” Collins told The Huffington Post Canada’s Althia Raj on Sirius satellite radio’s “Everything Is Political.”
“What we are particularly stressing is the need, because there are very many people in our country who have profound reasons for not being able to go down that path … that their conscience rights … be protected.”
'Great pressure' on doctors with religious objections
Collins said he was concerned that shortly after the Carter v. Canada decision came down, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario had instituted a policy that placed “great pressure” on physicians who have personal or religious objections to euthanasia to make referrals to other doctors.
The College’s interim policy states:
“Where a physician declines to provide physician-assisted death for reasons of conscience or religion, the physician must do so in a manner that respects patient dignity. Physicians must not impede access to care, even if that care conflicts with their conscience or religious beliefs.”
There is already pressure put on people, subtle and more profound."
Collins said the College’s message that is even if you don’t want to do it, make sure it happens.
“Well, doing it and making sure it happens are morally equivalent. And we think that is just not right. There is already pressure put on people, subtle and more profound,” the cardinal said.
“We just cannot do that and stay true to our belief,” said Worthen, whose group represents approximately 5,000 medical personnel. “It is resulting in doctors’ considering moving from the province of Ontario to try to be able to practice according to their conscience.”
Last month, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia also issued interim guidelines noting that physicians have the right to decide whether or not to perform physician-assisted dying. While the College said physicians who object to physician-assisted death are not obligated to make formal referrals, it also said physicians were “required to provide an effective transfer of care for their patients by advising patients that other physicians may be available to see them.”
“If we have a truly diverse and richly inclusive community, it is very important that people of conscience not be forced into doing things..."
Worthen said he hoped the committee would put provisions in place that respect the constitutional protection of conscience and freedom of religion, so that his organization’s members could practice “medicine according to our beliefs” right across the country.
“People who are deeply involved in helping others should not be pressured into doing that [physician-assisted death] or into making it happen indirectly. It is just not right,” Collins added. “If we have a truly diverse and richly inclusive community, it is very important that people of conscience not be forced into doing things…. That is not a better Canada.”
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