blog post last August, I discussed the heated debate that was
taking place regarding whether doctors should be allowed to refuse
treatment on moral or religious ground. At that time, the College
of Physicians and Surgeons (CPSO) jumped into the fray, asking the
public, health care professionals and other stakeholders: Do
you think a physician should be allowed to refuse to provide a
patient with a treatment or procedure because it conflicts with the
physicians religious or moral beliefs?
Having asked and been answered, the CPSO subsequently sifted
through the responses, weighed the arguments and, on March 6, 2015,
addressed the matter in the policy document, Professional Obligations and Human Rights. In
a superb demonstration of their skill at walking a fine line, the
college's workaround for those situations when a
physician's religious and moral beliefs are at odds with a
patient's request and needs is to refer the patient to another
physician who is able and willing to be of service. (When no other
physician is available in an emergency situation, all doctors are
required to offer treatment.)
Case closed. Or so you would think. Yet, with the ink barely dry
on the college's policy document, the Christian Medical and
Dental Society of Canada, supported by the Canadian Federation of
Catholic Physicians' Societies plus additional individual
doctors, is asking the Ontario Superior Court to declare the policy
infringes on their freedom of conscience. They are asking the court
to declare that portions of the policy breach sections of the
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In other words, these
physicians believe that referring is tantamount to facilitating;
not only do they not want to perform certain procedures, for
example, prescribing birth control or carrying out an abortion,
they don't want to tell you where you can go to have them
Put another way, these physicians are asking for the right to
discriminate, picking and choosing when and under what
circumstances they will provide services which are, by the way,
paid for by a publicly funded health care system. Despite the fact
that there are clear regulations and laws that have been
painstakingly designed to recognize and balance the rights of all
Canadians, this group is asserting that they have the right to opt
out and therein lies the rub: if the court allows these Christian
medical professionals to opt out, who is next? Should pharmacists
be allowed to opt out of dispensing certain types of drugs if it
goes against their beliefs? Should Jewish legal aid lawyers be
allowed to opt out of working with Muslim clients? Or, as we are
currently seeing in Indiana, should restaurant owners be allowed
to opt out of serving gay people?
As I stated last August, while doctors do have the right to
their religious beliefs, they do not have the right to be a doctor.
That is a privilege that carries responsibilities and
rights. Unfortunately for these Christian doctors, one of the
rights is not the discretion to opt out.
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