Family doctors who object to referring patients for abortions should think about switching specialties, the man overseeing the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons’ revision of its ethics policy said this week.
Dr. Marc Gabel, a Toronto psychotherapist and past president of the college, told LifeSiteNews on Thursday that if his committee’s proposed revision of the college’s “Professional Obligations and Human Rights” is adopted, then if doctors refuse to refer patients to abortionists, or to doctors willing to prescribe contraceptives, they could face disciplinary action.
“If there were a complaint, every complaint is investigated by the complaint committee,” Dr. Gabel said. The complaint committee could deliver a mild private rebuke or turn over the matter to the disciplinary committee, which Gabel chaired for several years.
According to Dr. Carol Leet, the new president of the college, a doctor found guilty of professional misconduct by the disciplinary committee could face anything from remedial instruction to loss of his or her medical licence.
The college’s own online poll has produced a very one-sided result: of 32,000 responses, 77 percent affirm a doctor’s right “to refuse to provide a patient with a treatment or procedure because it conflicts with the physician’s religious or moral beliefs.” Only 23 percent believe the opposite.
The draft policy proposes: “Where physicians are unwilling to provide certain elements of care due to their moral or religious beliefs, an effective referral to another health care provider must be provided to the patient. An effective referral means a referral made in good faith to a non-objecting, available and accessible physician or other health-care provider.”
At the same time, the draft policy indicates that in some circumstances doctors should be forced to actually commit abortions and other acts that violate their conscience. If there is nobody to whom the patient can be referred, it states, then the doctor “must provide care that is urgent or otherwise necessary to prevent imminent harm, suffering, and/or deterioration, even where that care conflicts with their religious or moral beliefs.”
Dr. Gabel told the Catholic Register that doctors who could not abide the requirement might want to move into another speciality. “It may well be that you would have to think about whether you can practice family medicine as it is defined in Canada and in most of the Western countries. … Medicine is an amazingly wide profession with many, many areas to practice medicine.”
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However, both Drs. Gabel and Leet believe pro-life doctors can refer patients with unwanted pregnancies to other doctors who are comfortable with doing abortions, or even to abortion clinics, without compromising their consciences. “Abortion clinics offer a range of services,” Leet said, arguing that a pro-life doctor can’t be sure the person will get an abortion there. Asked if she had ever heard of an abortion clinic refusing to do an abortion, she responded, “I’m no expert on abortion clinics.”
Dr. Leet believes that the “the religious beliefs of some doctors cannot outweigh the patients’ right to choose” whatever medical service they believe is appropriate. Patients have a right to receive “an effective referral” from any doctor.
But if there is indeed a patient’s right to be referred to an abortionist, McGill University religious studies professor Douglas Farrow told LifeSiteNews, “then I claim the patient’s right to a doctor who shares my belief that abortion is wrong. But this committee wants to drive all such doctors out of practice. What about my rights?”
Farrow further argued that, “If the Charter of Rights and Freedoms means anything by freedom of religion and conscience, it must mean that nobody can be forced to act against his faith or conscience. But that is what the Ontario College is considering doing to its own doctors.”
Farrow went on to urge “the Catholic bishops and all Christians to speak out now and stand by their doctors. Governments may compromise their consciences but Christians cannot. It is their duty to resist laws that are contrary to what is morally right.”
The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons’ governing council will vote on the proposed policy in June. They are welcoming feedback on the draft policy until February 20.
Information about providing feedback on the policy can be found here.