The majority Liberal government has voted down an amendment introduced by the opposition to incorporate conscience protection into the province's assisted suicide legislation April 12. Photo courtesy of Josh Evnin, Wikimedia Commons

Conscience rights protection amendments voted down

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  • April 12, 2017

The majority Liberal government at Queen’s Park has crushed an opposition attempt to incorporate conscience protections for doctors in its legislation on assisted suicide.

The government majority on the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs voted down two versions of a Progressive Conservative amendment to Bill-84 that would have removed the threat of license suspensions and other disciplinary actions against doctors who refuse to make an “effective referral” for medical assistance in dying (MAID).

New Democratic Party representatives on the committee abstained on the issue.

“Well, disappointing. But moving forward with new strategies,” wrote Dr. Ramona Coelho in a Facebook comment.

The last hope for conscience rights rides with a court case in Ontario Divisional Court June 13-15, said executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society Deacon Larry Worthen.

The CMDS is suing the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, claiming violations of their Charter rights to freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and equality under the law over the college’s “effective referral” policy.

For now, doctors who don’t want to be part of a process that ends in killing their patient have no options, PC health critic Jeff Yurek told The Catholic Register

“Unfortunately, now health care professionals can be penalized for not participating in medical assistance in dying,” he said.

Yurek proposed two versions of an amendment that would have specifically protected conscientious objectors in medicine from both civil damages and regulatory actions for refusing to refer patients for assisted death assessments. Both were voted down.

The Conservative’s next move on behalf of conscience rights will be to introduce a private members bill on May 11. Given the Liberal majority in the House, Yurek’s bill would require significant Liberal support to make it to second reading, let alone become law.

“It is something that is supported and we are going to take this forward and specifically bring each member of the legislature forward to vote on whether or not they should be protecting the conscience rights of healthcare professionals in this province,” said Yurek.

MPPs have received over 22,000 emails and letters in support of the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience campaign at canadiansforconscience.ca. The web site is currently soliciting donations to fund court costs through an expected lengthy appeals process.

Ontario’s bishops have joined with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Christian Legal Fellowship to file a joint factum or argument in the Christian Medical and Dental Society case against the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The factum argues that patient rights are also violated by the policy, which requires all doctors when asked to provide a referral, understood by most doctors as a medical endorsement for a course of action, to a willing and available doctor.

“Patients should be free to seek health care from professionals whose ethical framework reflects their own convictions, including those related to the value of human life,” Christian Legal Fellowship lawyer Deina Warren said in a release.

“The state cannot demand physicians or other healthcare professionals set aside the moral framework that guides their conduct, just as it cannot coerce believers to renounce their faith,” said Assembly of Ontario Catholic Bishops president Bishop Ron Fabbro.

Yurek believes that the CPSO policy can’t help but lead to moral and religious vetting at medical schools to ensure future doctors will go along with assisted suicide.

“You’ll see a vetting procedure occur at our colleges and universities, omitting people that have some form of morality against certain issues,” he said. “That is a terrible path to head down…. We don’t think people should be excluded for their beliefs.”

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