Christian doctors suggest amendments to Saskatchewan conscience policy

Three physicians groups have submitted their concerns to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan about its conscientious objection policy which they say would force some doctors to choose between their livelihood and violating their conscience if the policy is implemented without changes.

The Christian Medical and Dental Society, Canadian Physicians for Life, and the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies, submitted their suggested changes to the policy that was approved in principle by the Council of the CPSS in June.

The submission, prepared by Albertos Polizogopoulos, counsel to the three doctors’ groups, offered several amendments to clarify that language in the conscientious objection policy would not lead to requiring doctors to refer for abortion, contraception, or, eventually, euthanasia or assisted suicide.

One proposed changes to the policy’s language suggests replacing requirements that doctors “make an arrangement that will allow the patient to obtain access to health service” with the principle that physicians “provide the patient with information to allow the patient to arrange timely and effective access to medical services.”

In a cover letter to the college signed by the heads of the three groups, the physicians said the changes would provide “helpful clarity” to ensure doctors are not required to refer patients to other physicians who would provide services the referring doctor found morally objectionable and with which he did not want to be complicit. The language about information, they said, would protect the rights of both doctors and patients.

The submission also raises concerns about language that speaks about “jeopardizing the patient’s health or wellbeing” as being overly broad. They cite as an example a woman finding it damaging to her self-esteem to be told her doctor does not do abortions, noting that at least one academic finds the scenario a threat to women’s wellbeing.

Furthermore, the physicians said they find no solace in the fact that the college says the conscience policy does not address euthanasia or assisted suicide, as “we believe there is a strong likelihood that this policy will serve as a template for addressing these practices once they are legal.”

Polizogopoulos said in his conclusion that the changes they are proposing would uphold “equality and respect for all individuals” – doctors and patients – and protect the Charter rights to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, rights that would be endangered if the conscientious objection policy is adopted as it stands.

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