Peter Baklinski

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

Peter Baklinski
Peter Baklinski

POWELL RIVER, British Columbia, August 28, 2012 ( – 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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BREAKING: Planned Parenthood shooting suspect surrenders, is in custody: police

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By John Jalsevac

Nov. 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - Five hours after a single male shooter reportedly opened fire at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, chatter on police radio is indicating that the suspect has now been "detained."

"We have our suspect and he says he is alone," said police on the police radio channel. 

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers also confirmed via Twitter shortly after 7:00 pm EST that the suspect was in custody.

The news comes almost exactly an hour after the start of a 6:00 pm. press conference in which Lt. Catherine Buckley had confirmed that a single shooter was still at large, and had exchanged gunfire with police moments before.

According to Lt. Buckley, four, and possibly five police officers have been shot since the first 911 call was received at 11:38 am local time today. An unknown number of civilians have also been shot.

Although initial reports had suggested that the shooting began outside the Planned Parenthood, possibly outside a nearby bank, Lt. Buckley said that in fact the incident began at the Planned Parenthood itself.

She said that the suspect had also brought unknown "items" with him to the Planned Parenthood. 

Pro-life groups have started responding to the news, urging caution in jumping to conclusions about the motivations of the shooter, while also condemning the use of violence in promoting the pro-life cause. 

"Information is very sketchy about the currently active shooting situation in Colorado Springs," said Pavone. "The Planned Parenthood was the address given in the initial call to the police, but we still do not know what connection, if any, the shooting has to do with Planned Parenthood or abortion.

"As leaders in the pro-life movement, we call for calm and pray for a peaceful resolution of this situation."

Troy Newman of Operation Rescue and Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, also issued statements.

"Operation Rescue unequivocally deplores and denounces all violence at abortion clinics and has a long history of working through peaceful channels to advocate on behalf of women and their babies," said Newman. "We express deep concern for everyone involved and are praying for the safety of those at the Planned Parenthood office and for law enforcement personnel. We pray this tragic situation can be quickly resolved without further injury to anyone."

"Although we don't know the reasons for the shooting near the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs today, the pro-life movement is praying for the safety of all involved and as a movement we have always unequivocally condemned all forms of violence at abortion clinics. We must continually as a nation stand against violence on all levels," said Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, based in Washington, D.C.


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Rubio says SCOTUS didn’t ‘settle’ marriage issue: ‘God’s rules always win’

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By Dustin Siggins

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Surging GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, says that "God's law" trumps the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision imposing same-sex “marriage” nationwide.

The senator also told Christian Broadcast Network's David Brody that the Supreme Court's redefinition of marriage is not "settled," but instead "current law."

“No law is settled,” said Rubio. “Roe v. Wade is current law, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to aspire to fix it, because we think it’s wrong.”

“If you live in a society where the government creates an avenue and a way for you to peacefully change the law, then you’re called to participate in that process to try to change it,” he explained, and "the proper place for that to be defined is at the state level, where marriage has always been regulated — not by the Supreme Court and not by the federal government.”

However, when laws conflict with religious beliefs, "God's rules always win," said Rubio.

“In essence, if we are ever ordered by a government authority to personally violate and sin — violate God’s law and sin — if we’re ordered to stop preaching the Gospel, if we’re ordered to perform a same-sex marriage as someone presiding over it, we are called to ignore that,” Rubio expounded. “We cannot abide by that because government is compelling us to sin.”

“I continue to believe that marriage law should be between one man and one woman," said the senator, who earlier in the fall was backed by billionaire GOP donor and same-sex "marriage" supporter Paul Singer.

Singer, who also backs looser immigration laws and a strong U.S.-Israel alliance, has long pushed for the GOP to change its position on marriage in part due to the sexual orientation of his son.

Despite Singer's support, Rubio's marriage stance has largely been consistent. He told Brody earlier in the year that "there isn't such a right" to same-sex "marriage."

"You have to have a ridiculous reading of the U.S. Constitution to reach the conclusion that people have a right to marry someone of the same sex."

Rubio also said religious liberty should be defended against LGBT activists he says "want to stigmatize, they want to ostracize anyone who disagrees with them as haters."

"I believe, as do a significant percentage of Americans, that the institution of marriage, an institution that existed before government, that existed before laws, that institution should remain in our laws recognized as the union of one man and one woman," he said.

Rubio also hired social conservative leader Eric Teetsel as his director of faith outreach this month.

However, things have not been entirely smooth for Rubio on marriage. Social conservatives were concerned when the executive director of the LGBT-focused Log Cabin Republicans told Reuters in the spring that the Catholic senator is "not as adamantly opposed to all things LGBT as some of his statements suggest."

The LGBT activist group had meetings with Rubio's office "going back some time," though the senator himself never attended those meetings. Rubio has publicly said that he would attend the homosexual "wedding" of a gay loved one, and also that he believed "that sexual preference is something that people are born with," as opposed to being a choice.

Additionally, days after the Supreme Court redefined marriage, Rubio said that he disagreed with the decision but that "we live in a republic and must abide by the law."

"I believe that marriage, as the key to strong family life, is the most important institution in our society and should be between one man and one woman," he said. "People who disagree with the traditional definition of marriage have the right to change their state laws. That is the right of our people, not the right of the unelected judges or justices of the Supreme Court. This decision short-circuits the political process that has been underway on the state level for years.

Rubio also said at the time that "it must be a priority of the next president to nominate judges and justices committed to applying the Constitution as written and originally understood…"

“I firmly believe the question of same sex marriage is a question of the definition of an institution, not the dignity of a human being. Every American has the right to pursue happiness as they see fit. Not every American has to agree on every issue, but all of us do have to share our country. A large number of Americans will continue to believe in traditional marriage, and a large number of Americans will be pleased with the Court’s decision today. In the years ahead, it is my hope that each side will respect the dignity of the other.”

The Florida senator said in July that he opposed a constitutional marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution to leave marriage up to the states because that would involve the federal government in state marriage policies.

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Former The View star Sherri Shepherd and then-husband Lamar Sally in 2010 s_bukley /
Steve Weatherbe

Court orders Sherri Shepherd to pay child support for surrogate son she abandoned

Steve Weatherbe
By Steve Weatherbe

November 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Sherri Shepherd, a Hollywood celebrity who co-hosted the popular talk show The View for seven years, has lost a maternity suit launched by her ex-husband Lamar Sally, forcing her to pay him alimony and child support for their one-year surrogate son LJ. The decision follows an unseemly fight which pro-life blogger Cassy Fiano says has exposed how surrogacy results in “commodifying” the unborn.

Shepherd, a co-host of the View from 2007 to 2014, met Sally, a screenwriter, in 2010 and they married a year later. Because her eggs were not viable, they arranged a surrogate mother in Pennsylvania to bear them a baby conceived in vitro using Sally’s sperm and a donated egg.

But the marriage soured in mid-term about the time Shepherd lost her job with The View. According to one tabloid explanation, she was worried he would contribute little to parenting responsibilities.  Sally filed for separation in 2014, Shepherd filed for divorce a few days, then Sally sued for sole custody, then alimony and child support.

Earlier this year she told PEOPLE she had gone along with the surrogacy to prevent the breakup of the marriage and had not really wanted the child.

Shepherd, an avowed Christian who once denied evolution on The View and a successful comic actor on Broadway, TV, and in film since the mid-90s, didn’t want anything to do with LJ, as Lamar named the boy, who after all carried none of her genes. She refused to be at bedside for the birth, and refused to let her name be put on the birth certificate and to shoulder any responsibility for LJ’s support.

But in April the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, and now the state’s Superior Court, ruled that Shepherd’s name must go on the birth certificate and she must pay Sally alimony and child support.

“The ultimate outcome is that this baby has two parents and the parents are Lamar Sally and Sherri Shepherd,” Shepherd’s lawyer Tiffany Palmer said.

As for the father, Sally told PEOPLE, “I'm glad it's finally over. I'm glad the judges saw through all the lies that she put out there, and the negative media attention. If she won't be there for L.J. emotionally, I'll be parent enough for the both of us.”

But Shepherd said, “I am appealing the ruling that happened,” though in the meantime, Sally will “get his settlement every month. There’s nothing I can do.”

Commented Fiano in Live Action News, “What’s so sickening about this case is that this little boy, whose life was created in a test tube, was treated as nothing more than a commodity…Saying that you don’t want a baby but will engineer one to get something you want is horrific.” As for trying to get out from child support payments now that the marriage had failed, that was “despicable.”

Fiano went on to characterize the Shepherd-Sally affair as a “notable example” of commodification of children, and “by no means an anomaly.” She cited a British report than over the past five years 123 babies conceived in vitro were callously aborted when they turned out to have Down Syndrome.

“When we’re not ready for babies, we have an abortion,” she added. “But then when we decide we are ready we manufacture them in a laboratory and destroy any extras. Children exist when we want them to exist, to fill the holes in us that we want them to fill, instead of being independent lives with their own inherent value and dignity.”

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