The initiative comes on the heels of the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide and, in Ontario, a refusal to allow doctors to totally opt out of the process. No doctor is required to end the life of a patient, but those who object to doctor-assisted killing are required to provide an “effective referral,” even when such referrals go against their religious and moral beliefs.
During the campaign, people are being asked to write to their MPP to urge the government to enact comprehensive protection of conscience rights for doctors. At present, no other jurisdiction in the world forces doctors to act against their moral convictions and eight Canadian provinces have enacted conscience protection, according to information from the Archdiocese of Toronto.
“Our job is to first educate on the issue and then, hopefully, motivate people to contact their MPP,” to voice their concern by March 31, said Neil MacCarthy, director of communications for the archdiocese.
“Even more than writing, I’d suggest people call their MPP.”
The Call for Conscience Campaign is an initiative of the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience, an organization of religious and other groups. Representatives from the coalition, including Cardinal Thomas Collins, have held meetings with MPPs over the last several months to press their case.
Doctors in Ontario are vulnerable because the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which regulates physicians, requires that doctors provide, at minimum, effective referrals for patients who are seeking an assisted death. Failure to comply can lead to discipline from the college.
This has placed many doctors in the untenable position of facing fines or suspensions if they act on religious conviction and refuse to participate directly or indirectly in assisted killing. For many doctors, there is no moral distinction between euthanizing a patient and sending them elsewhere to be euthanized.
“I can’t say I’m opposed to robbing a bank and then give a would-be thief the combination to the locks,” said one doctor.
“For many people, making a referral is being complicit in the act of killing a patient,” said another.
The Ontario legislature is currently reviewing Bill 84 — the Medical Assistance in Dying Statue Law Amendment Act — that deals with several legal issues around assisted suicide and euthanasia. The bill currently fails to address conscience rights.
“We will be asking for an amendment to include that protection,” MacCarthy said.
With Ontario politicians returning from their Christmas break Feb. 21, “time is of the essence,” MacCarthy added.
Educational materials for the Conscience Campaign were created by MacCarthy and Deacon Larry Worthen, executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada and spokesperson for the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience.
“The goal is right across the province to get as many church people aware of this situation as possible and to get them … demanding conscience protection in the upcoming legislation Bill-84,” Worthen said.
For more information on the campaign, go to www.canadiansforconscience.ca.