Peter Baklinski

Physician conscience rights still officially protected in Canada, but increasingly threatened

Peter Baklinski
Peter Baklinski

POWELL RIVER, British Columbia, August 28, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – After the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) voted two weeks ago to support the wording of the country’s Criminal Code which states that a baby becomes a “human being” only after being born, LifeSiteNews decided to track down where the CMA stands with regard to conscious rights for doctors who believe that babies are human before being born and want nothing to do with abortion.

CMA’s current 1988 policy for “induced abortion” in relation to doctors states that a physician “whose moral or religious beliefs prevent him or her from recommending or performing an abortion should inform the patient of this so that she may consult another physician.”

The CMA policy moreover clarifies that “no discrimination should be directed against doctors who do not perform or assist at induced abortions. Respect for the right of personal decision in this area must be stressed, particularly for doctors training in obstetrics and gynecology, and anesthesia.”

While the written policy sounds like it does protect pro-life physicians, LifeSiteNews contacted Sean Murphy, administrator for the Protection of Conscience Project (PCP), to find out more about how the policy is applied in practice, and about freedom of conscience for physicians in general in Canada.

LSN: Even the CMA, which holds rigorous views on abortion, still believes in conscience rights, but not completely. In 2007, Jeff Blackmer, executive director of the Office of Ethics for the CMA, wrote a piece titled “Clarification of the CMA’s position concerning induced abortion” wherein he states that a doctor “should not interfere in any way with this patient’s right to obtain the abortion. At the patient’s request, you [the doctor] should also indicate alternative sources where she might obtain a referral.”

PCP: This statement was published because of a controversy that erupted over a 2006 guest editorial in the CMA Journal by Professor Jocelyn Downie of Dalhousie University and Sanda Rogers of the University of Ottawa. They claimed that physicians were obliged to refer for abortion. Responses from the CPC and others are here.

Dr. Blackmer’s statement is not considered an assertion that physicians are obliged to refer for abortion. It would be sufficient for a physician to indicate that if the patient wished to pursue the matter she could contact other physicians or the College of Physicians and surgeons, or consult a telephone book. In my experience, physicians who object to referral for reasons of conscience (not all do) do not normally object to providing this kind of information.

In June, 1977, the CMA revised its Code of Ethics to include a clause that imposed an obligation to refer for morally contested procedures (abortion was not specifically named). The clause was removed the following year because of opposition from CMA members. David Williams, then CMA director of ethics, told me in 2000 that the policy was dropped because there was no ethical consensus to support it. Nothing has changed in this respect.

The issue of referral has appropriately been described as an intractable problem by Holly Fernandez-Lynch in Conflicts of Conscience in Health Care: An Institutional Compromise. See the PCP review here. It was highly controversial for the CMA in 1977, and it still is. Indeed, given Carter v Canada, [a case that recently legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada but was appealed by the government of Canada] it may become even more controversial. (see below)

LSN: How do you see the state of conscience rights for doctors in Canada?

PCP: ‘Rights’ language is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the use of rights language to justify ethical aggression and ethical cleansing of professions. The issue is better expressed in terms of fundamental human freedom.

The situation is precarious because much depends upon the attitude of the legal and human rights establishment, which both appear to be developing attitudes that are increasingly hostile to the exercise of freedom of conscience when the exercise expresses what might be termed politically incorrect views.

The underlying problem is disagreement about the nature of human rights. The foundational problem is disagreement about the nature of the human person.

Physicians are in a better position to defend their fundamental freedoms than most other health care workers because of their professional dominance and relative independence. A physician who has completed the educational and regulatory requirements for practice can, if need be, begin to practise independently. A qualified nurse, on the other hand, must find an employer in order to work, and remains dependent on an employer in order to continue to work and advance in the profession. Pharmacists are similarly disadvantaged.

LSN: Do you see an erosion happening with regard to conscience rights for doctors in Canada?

PCP: This is difficult to assess because factors that can contribute to erosion may operate out of the public eye: in law schools, in committees of Colleges of Physicians or associations, in seminars or meetings of ‘rights’ groups, and in government bureaucracies.

For example:

• Prof. Sanda Rogers was reported to have told a class at the University of Ottawa on 28 October, 2004, that a physician is required by law to refer patients for abortion, even if the physician objects to the procedure for reasons of conscience. The Dean of the Faculty of Medicine denied that the statement was made. However, the CMA Journal editorial she co-authored with Jocelyn Downie in 2006 appears to reflect the position attributed to her two years earlier. We do not know how often this kind of statement is made in post-secondary classrooms across the country.

• In 2008, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons very nearly adopted a policy to prohibit physicians in the province from acting on their moral, ethical or religious beliefs. This was the result of pressure from the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Most physicians in the province were unaware that this was happening until the day before the deadline for comment on the policy. The PCP issued a news release and alerted its contacts after being called by a physician who discovered the draft policy by accident.

The resulting uproar forced the College to backpedal somewhat. However, its revised draft was completed before the deadline for public consultation had expired, and the College refused to release the revised draft until the eve of the Council meeting that was to consider it, effectively precluding further critical comment on the document that the Council was to consider. Despite calls from the Ontario Medical Association and the PCP to postpone the vote, the policy was adopted. The most blatantly provocative sections were removed, but the amended policy is less than satisfactory.

• Another important consideration is the potential effect of Carter v. Canada, the BC Supreme Court judgement that proposes to legalize physician assisted suicide and therapeutic homicide (the term used by a CMA Journal editorial). The Royal Society of Canada “expert panel” on euthanasia and assisted suicide recommended that objecting physicians be forced to refer for the procedures. Three of the authors of that report were witnesses for the plaintiffs in Carter v. Canada, and a fourth, Joceyln Downie, instructed the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses. 

As noted above, Downie has long been a proponent of compulsory referral for abortion. The PCP does not take a position on the morality or desirability of assisted suicide or therapeutic homicide, but is concerned that legalization of the procedures would threaten freedom of conscience for health care workers. A response to the judgement from the CPC dealing with this issue is in preparation.

LSN: Do we need laws that affirm conscience rights? If so, what should those laws look like?

PCP: Yes, we need laws that affirm conscience rights. Laws can be general or procedure-specific. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. See the Model Statute on the PCP website and examples of other proposed or existing legislation.

LSN: What can a doctor do to keep his job who has made the decision to be no part of a process that ends the life of a child in the womb?

PCP: It is a serious mistake to confine concerns about freedom of conscience to abortion.

• In the case of a morally contested procedure or service, an objecting physician should first ensure that he has a solid understanding of the essential facts concerning it, based on sound science and the latest reliable research.

• Academic discipline requires an ability to distinguish between what lies within the province of science and what lies elsewhere. “Personhood,” for example, can have distinctive philosophical or legal meanings, but it is not a scientific concept at all. Whether or not something “ought” to be done is a subject for philosophy, religion, or ethics - not science. Keeping clear about this is essential for good communication with patients and colleagues.

• Obtain copies of the policies of regulatory and licensing authorities and study them. Do not ignore the policies of specialist associations that may have considerable influence in setting ‘standards of care.’

• Some objectors encounter problems primarily because of the way they communicate with patients, colleagues or others. If it is necessary to explain your position, it must be done so in a way that refers to your own moral responsibility, not that of the patient or colleague. Avoid expressions that impute wrongdoing to others or that might come across as “preaching”.

• Conscientious objection is likely to make colleagues who do not share your views uncomfortable because it implies that what they are doing is wrong. It is unwise to increase their discomfort by making statements that will be perceived as questioning their moral judgement, as they are then likely to become hostile. Take note of their discomfort - “You seem troubled/ disturbed/surprised” and invite dialogue - “Have I offended you?”

• In addition to discomfort, you may encounter a belligerent challenge, contempt or condescension. If you are taken by surprise or become flustered, no harm is done by admitting the fact and suggesting that time should be made for an uninterrupted chat.

• Don’t rush into what might prove to be a contentious discussion simply to counter an offensive or ill-timed remark. Everyone will benefit if even a few minutes is taken to reflect and relax.

• Resist the urge to explain or defend yourself. Instead, ask your interlocutor to explain his concerns. Listen carefully, and ask questions, not to challenge his views, but to clarify the issues and identify any unexamined presuppositions that are governing his approach to them.

• There is no point exasperating a colleague by attempting to argue from incorrect assumptions about what he knows or believes. Let him tell you. Identify points of agreement and points of contention, and work together from there.

• The notion of working together with your critic is important. The goal is authentic and respectful communication, even if it involves serious argument and fundamental disagreements.

• If you are uncertain about how to reply to facts or an argument presented by your critic, you should simply admit it and promise to continue the discussion after you have had time to think further about it or research the problem. Offer your critic the same courtesy, unasked for, if need be. There is no need to resolve everything at once. In fact, it may prove difficult to resolve even preliminary matters in the first encounter.

• Long before a crisis looms you should seek the fellowship of students and professionals from other religious traditions (or none) who have a common interest in securing freedom of conscience in health care. You may be surprised to find that someone from a completely different faith and culture is more supportive of your views than a co-religionist who lives down the street.

Dr. Will Johnston, president of Canadian Physicians for Life recently told LifeSiteNews that Canadian doctors who want a “serious alternative” to the conversation provided by the CMA “can find it in Canadian Physicians for Life.”

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received more than $400 million in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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