Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons policy violates conscience rights

On March 6, the ruling council of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons voted 21-3 for a new Professional Obligations and Human Rights policy that could require doctors in the province to commit abortion or euthanasia.

The new policy, announced in a press release, “requires physicians to provide their patients with an effective referral to another health-care provider for those services the physician chooses not to provide for reasons of conscience or religion.”

However, it also requires doctors to provide services with which they may object in some situations. The policy makes it clear that the conscience rights of doctors can be abrogated: “Physicians must provide care in an emergency, where it is necessary situation to prevent imminent harm, even where that care conflicts with their conscience or religious beliefs.”

Sean Murphy of the Protection of Conscience Project said: “the Ontario College of Physicians has decided they are prepared to compel physicians to do what they consider is wrong, even homicide or suicide and punish them if they refuse. If institutions can order citizens to do what they believe is evil, what can they not do?”

He also said that many doctors would view referring patients seeking abortions or other morally objectionable procedures to be still collaborating with immoral acts.

Murphy said other provincial bodies could feel pressure to follow Ontario’s college. The Saskatchewan College of Physicians and Surgeons was expected to vote on a similar policy later in March. He also predicted that some patient-provocateurs could visit doctors to start test cases on the exact rules of referrals.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom argues that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the conscience rights of doctors from discrimination by state bodies such as the physician colleges which regulate the profession.

After the OCPS released its policy, Murphy said that supporters of the policy change had not met the burden of proof that it was “justified or that less oppressive alternatives” were available. The Protection of Conscience Project called for the policy to be withdrawn.

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