No conscience rights for euthanasia

National Affairs Rory Leishman

National Affairs Rory Leishman

The vise of oppression is closing ever so tightly on pro-life physicians in Canada that they are liable soon to be drummed out of the profession for steadfastly refusing to collaborate in the deliberate killing of patients.

That seems to be just fine with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal colleagues. In the government’s recently enacted euthanasia legislation, Bill C-14, they included no protection for the right of a conscientious physician to refrain from participating directly or indirectly in deliberately killing a patient upon request or assisting the patient to commit suicide.

Granted, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould is quick to point out that Bill C-14 affirms that “nothing in this (Act) compels an individual to provide or assist in providing medical assistance in dying.” But that provision is just so much blather. As Conservative MP Arnold Viersen observed in the Commons on May 13, it will in no way prevent an individual or organization from compelling or coercing a pro-life physician to take part in the deliberate killing of a patient under the guise of medical aid in dying.

Moreover, the threat of such coercion is not just theoretical. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has issued a practice guide on “Medical Assistance in Dying” which directs that a physician who declines for reasons of conscience or religion to perform euthanasia must provide an “effective” referral in good faith “to a non-objecting, available, and accessible physician, nurse practitioner or agency. The referral must be made in a timely manner to allow the patient to access medical assistance in dying.”

In Quebec, physicians who refuse to commit euthanasia upon the request of a qualifying patient are likewise obligated by law to immediately notify a designated authority who will arrange for another doctor to do the deed.

In other provinces, the rules are hardly less stringent. In New Brunswick, for example the regulatory body allows physicians to refuse to commit euthanasia or to make a direct referral, yet still implicates them in the killing by providing that all physicians must, at a minimum, provide patients with information about “directly accessible” euthanasia resources.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province in Canada with a College of Physicians and Surgeons that “recommends,” but does not require, that a physician provide a patient who legally qualifies for euthanasia with information on how to obtain the services of a death-dealing physician.

In a submission to the Special Joint Committee of Parliament on Physician Assistance in Dying, the Protection of Conscience Project suggested that Bill C-14 might effectively protect the conscience rights of pro-life physicians by including a clear and straightforward amendment: “Every one commits an offence who, by an exercise of authority or intimidation, compels another person to be a party to homicide or suicide.” In this way, the bill would have made it a serious criminal offence for any person or organization to compel a pro-life physician to facilitate the homicide or suicide of a patient who qualifies under the law for euthanasia.

Wilson-Raybould rejected the proposal on the ground that it would trespass upon the broad jurisdiction over human rights and the regulation of health care granted to the provinces in section 92 of Constitution of Canada Act. In response, the Protection of Conscience Project argued that the amendment would have come within the overriding jurisdiction of Parliament over the criminal law in Section 91(27) of the Constitution inasmuch as: “Coercion, intimidation or other forms of pressure intended to force citizens to become parties to homicide or suicide is both an egregious violation of fundamental freedoms and a serious threat to society that justifies the use of criminal law.”

Based on judicial precedent, the Protection of Conscience Project has the better legal argument, but such legal considerations are no longer of much account. Had this matter ended up in the courts, the Supreme Court of Canada might have sided with Raybould, given the recently and repeatedly demonstrated proclivity of this rogue tribunal to flout established law and its own precedents.

As it is, the Trudeau Liberals have assured that Bill C-14 provides no effective protection for the fundamental right to freedom of conscience for pro-life physicians who decline to engage directly or indirectly in euthanasia. What’s next? Will the Liberals and like-minded New Democrats collude with their progressive, policy-making masters on the Supreme Court of Canada to quash the inalienable right of pro-life physicians to refuse to collaborate in abortion?

Alas, that, also, is all too likely.

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