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As Ontario’s College of Physicians reaches deadline on conscience rights review, poll reveals huge support for pro-life docs.
Steve Weatherbe

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Most Ontarians support doctors’ right to refuse abortions

Steve Weatherbe

The deadline has closed and the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons now has some 1,800 submissions to peruse as it reviews its 2008 policy on the conflict between doctors’ conscience rights and patients’ rights to service.

“We’ve got medical groups and religious groups and women’s groups,” says College media relations officer Prithi Yelaja. The College, she says, has given itself till the first quarter of 2015 to read them all and respond.

But 32,882 have already weighed in on the online poll at the College’s website, and, so far, public opinion is running heavily in favour of doctors’ rights to “refuse to provide a patient with a treatment or procedure because it conflicts with the physician’s religious or moral beliefs.”  Fully 77 percent (25,202) support the doctors, with only 23 percent preferring a patient’s rights to demand any service available from each and every medical provider.

The issue sparked a furore on social media in May, when “Kate D.” complained that she had been refused contraceptives by an Ottawa medical clinic.  “I just hope that the message gets out enough for people to realize that when you’re in a professional position,” she commented, “you have to leave you morals at home.”

Kate D.’s view is being backed at a more academic level by Carolyn McLeod, associate philosophy professor at the University of Western Ontario. She was the principle investigator on a study on the subject commissioned by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and titled  “Let Conscience Be Their Guide? Conscientious Refusals in Reproductive Health Care.”

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The question mark says it all. In a blog post for impactethics.ca, McLeod argues that physicians do not have an “absolute” freedom to turn down patients. “For if it were absolute, then a Muslim physician could refuse to accept female patients, a Catholic physician could deny care to women who have had previous abortions,” she said.

An even more extreme attack on conscience rights came from Joyce Arthur, director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. In her March paper “Dishonorable Disobedience…Not Conscientious Objection,” Arthur declared that “Healthcare professionals who exercise CO [conscientious objection] are using their position of trust and authority to impose their personal beliefs on patients, who are completely dependent on them for essential healthcare.” 

She recommended simply excluding anyone from the pharmaceutical, nursing or medical professions who is unwilling to prescribe contraceptives and abortifaciants, or perform or abet abortions.

The idea that pharmacists, doctors and nurses should park their religious or moral beliefs at the door of medicine is opposed by other pro-choice groups, however, and by the Supreme Court of Canada.

John Carpay and Carol Crosson of the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms argue in their submission to the College that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees for conscience and religion are virtually meaningless if they apply only to what goes on in homes and churches and not the workplace.

Among a string of supportive rulings is Chamberlain vs the Surrey School District 36, in which the Supremes commented, “Should the religiously-informed conscience be placed at a public disadvantage [to the secularly-informed one]? To do this would be to distort liberal principles in an illiberal fashion and would provide only a feeble notion of pluralism.”

“Neither the Charter and the Ontario Human Rights Code recognize any patient’s right to service,” Carpay told LifeSiteNews. “The Charter and Code so protect patients from discrimination based on their race, religion, sexual preference, gender and so on.”

Defenders of doctors’ rights also point out that artificial contraception does not improve or protect woman’s health.

Dana Cody, director of the California-based Life Legal Defence Foundation, notes that “the World Health Organization considers artificial contraception to be a carcinogen. It certainly had a debilitating impact on my health.”

In the U.S., says Cody, both doctors and nurses have the constitutional right to refuse orders from employers to deliver services against their consciences. “But medical and nursing schools are not teaching that these rights exist,” she adds, saying she knows of at least one student nurse who would have been kicked out of nursing school because of her refusal to assist at abortions, had Cody not intervened.

“Employees have to push back” when pushed to do things that violate their consciences, she says.

Life Legal Defence Fund is just one of a host of non-profit law firms established in the last 20 years to defend religious and conscience rights against governments and institutions.

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