Doctors being forced to facilitate killing
The Ontario Court of Appeal released its decision in Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS) v. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO).
The court unanimously upheld the CPSO’s policies on medical assistance in dying and human rights obligations. The policies require doctors who conscientiously object to ethically controversial procedures (such as euthanasia/assisted suicide and abortion) to take “positive action” to facilitate them, such as by providing an “effective referral” to a willing and available physician.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario (ACBO), and the Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF) – who jointly intervened in the case as a Coalition – were disappointed with the ruling. Bishop Ronald Fabbro, ACBO President and Bishop of London, comments:
“This decision is a step backwards for conscience rights in our province. Of particular concern is the wording in the Court of Appeal decision which suggests that conscientious objectors pursue an area of medicine that is less controversial. We run the very real risk of losing many good physicians who entered the practice motivated by a desire to heal their patients which was rooted in their own personal beliefs. Across Canada and throughout the world, we have seen an appropriate balance struck between patient rights and those of health care providers. Sadly, this is not the case in our province.”
The Court of Appeal concluded that the policies infringe physicians’ religious freedom by requiring them to either violate their convictions or “abandon their practice area rather than face prosecution for failing to do so” (para 79). However, the three-judge panel agreed with the Divisional Court that the infringement is justifiable as it advances the CPSO’s goal of ensuring “equitable access to health care.”
David Guretzki, the EFC’s Acting President and Resident Theologian, describes the decision as troubling:
“A doctor’s conscience is grounded in beliefs that are deeply held and central to their whole approach both to life and to medicine. The decision to participate in ending a patient’s life by making an effective referral is not based in preference or opinion, but in deeply held beliefs about life and death. It is troubling that the Court of Appeal has upheld CPSO policies that violate the religious freedom of physicians and require them to act against their religious convictions. In a religiously diverse and secular society, the state has an obligation to promote respect and tolerance of all, including religious minorities.”