The Provincial Standing Committee on Finance and Economics is considering a government sponsored Medical Aid in Dying bill (Bill 84). It is a statute amendment act and would make changes to a number of existing statutes, but fails to provide any protection for conscientious objectors.
This omission is troubling. Christian Legal Fellowship (“CLF”), represented by Derek Ross and Deina Warren, appeared before the Committee yesterday to make oral submissions explaining how and why this Bill ought to be amended. In addition, CLF made written submissions that were both filed with the Committee and sent to each individual MPP.
CLF’s submission explained that the Bill’s failure to protect conscience is particularly troublesome because the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), the regulatory body for Ontario physicians, currently mandates “effective referrals” for all physicians in all circumstances, even if to do so would violate the physician’s religious beliefs/conscience.
It is CLF’s position that such a policy violates the Charter rights of health care professionals. Not only did the Supreme Court in Carter v Canada clearly state that nothing in its declaration of invalidity would compel physicians to provide assistance in dying (para 132), no other jurisdiction - nationally or internationally - that permits assisted suicide and/or euthanasia require effective referrals. Conscience is always protected.
CLF pointed out that is in a patient’s best interest for physicians to act as moral agents, not having abandoned moral conviction upon licensure. Conscience protection allows patients to choose a health care professional who aligns with their own beliefs, resting assured that physician and patient share a mutual respect for the unconditional value of human life.
CLF also highlighted the fact that there are no competing rights at issue in this matter between physicians and patients because there is no constitutional ‘right to access’ physician-assisted suicide. As the Ontario Court of Appeal explained in the context of medical marijuana: “…given that marihuana can medically benefit some individuals, a blanket criminal prohibition on its use is unconstitutional. This court did not hold that serious illness gives rise to an automatic ‘right to use marihuana’.”
CLF explained that physicians’ ethical frameworks do and should inform the care they provide, particularly in complex end-of-life care issues. CLF noted the need for conscience protection will only increase in light of efforts to expand MAID eligibility to non-terminally ill patients, those with mental illness, children, and incapacitated patients who made requests by advance directive.
CLF urged the Ontario government to take action to redress the situation currently faced by Ontario physicians by amending the Bill and taking a stand against Charter violations by protecting conscience for institutions and medical professionals.
CLF’s written brief can be accessed here.