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Steve Weatherbe

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Canadian doctor rallies colleagues against ‘tyrannical’ attack on conscience and sound medicine

Steve Weatherbe

CALGARY, Alberta, March 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Dr. Martin Owen, a Calgary family doctor, has taken on the task of rousing his fellow practitioners to the danger posed to their integrity by policies being pushed by professional regulators in several provinces.

“My conscience is on the line,” Owen said in a chain e-letter. “If I lived in Ontario, I'd probably move my 7 children to another province so I could avoid the tyranny over my professional medical judgment and my conscience.”

Appalled by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons’ new requirement for all doctors, regardless of moral objections, to do or refer abortions,  Owen has launched a website, freedomofconscience.ca, with Ezra Levant just before the latter’s Sun News Network folded, and sent chain e-letters to colleagues asking them to vote in a “poorly worded” CBC poll about the issue. And as with a chain letter, he has asked his recipients to pass his message on to 10 colleagues.

“The time has come when doctors now need to fight for the right not to perform abortions, prescribe birth control, or refer patients for controversial procedures,” the email stated. 

Since he started his campaign, which has been backed by the Campaign Life Coalition, evangelical church groups, the Christian Heritage Party, and freedomofconcience.ca, a website he started with Ezra Levant, the split between those against and those for conscience rights has moved from 80-20 to 60-40. “And on the freedomofconscience.ca site, we’ve gone from 4,000 signatures to 5,600,” Owen told LifeSiteNews, referring to a petition aimed at the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons. The website contains a growing list of testimonies from doctors and members of the public.

Owen says the push by the Saskatchewan and Ontario Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons to require doctors to refer patients for procedures they themselves refuse to do is bad medicine and a violation of their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“You want doctors with consciences, because conscience is the foundation of ethics. Ethics can’t be reduced to policy,” Owen told LifeSiteNews. “You can’t regulate ethics; you can’t regulate all physicians down to each movement of the hand.”

The CBC poll framed the conflict in the way preferred by advocates for restrictions on doctors’ consciences, as a conflict between care for the patient and the doctor’s religious scruples. It asked website visitors to agree with one of two statements: “yes, doctors should have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else,” or “No, doctors are obligated to provide care and religion shouldn’t enter into it.”

A Calgary secular organization calling itself the Centre for Inquiry Calgary also chose to equate “conscience” with religion, and religion with bigots and racists.  “We strongly disapprove when medical treatment is influenced by personal beliefs, whether they are cultural, religious, moral, bigoted, or racist,” reads a message on its site. “All Albertans have the right to receive equal and appropriate care from all Physicians. Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and freedoms, a person cannot be discriminated against based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

What the centre omitted, deliberately or not, is that the Charter applies to government organizations, including public hospitals and government-charted professions, and does not govern the activities of individuals, such as doctors in private practice.

But Dr. Owen says there is no conflict between conscience and care: the procedures he refuses to do for moral reasons are, in his view, all medically harmful: abortion, assisted suicide, vasectomies and intrauterine device insertions. “Who would want a doctor who would do something he or she believes is harmful? Yet these new policies would force me to acquiesce to a patient’s request that I think is wrong.”

Dr. Owen said that policy just approved by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons—and just challenged by a lawsuit from the Christian Medical and Dental Association—is unnecessary. “There are plenty of doctors who will do the things I won’t do. Patients have a right to access all services from the medical system but not from any and every doctor. This is really about forcing all doctors to conform. But I have a right under the Charter to belong to any profession and not be forced out because of my beliefs.”

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