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No legal “duty to refer” for euthanasia or assisted suicide anywhere in the world

by | Jan 8, 2015

 

Editor’s note. The following statement was released today by Maurice Vellacott, an MP representing Saskatoon-Wanuskewin. As the introduction to his statement makes clear, it is motivated by an “anticipation of the possible striking down of Canada’s laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide” and by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s draft policy “which, if passed, would require Ontario physicians to make referrals for controversial medical procedures regardless of their conscientious/religious convictions.” Internal citations were omitted in the interest of space and continuity.

Maurice Vellacott

Maurice Vellacott

I am deeply concerned about the assault on the fundamental freedoms of Ontario’s doctors should CPSO’s [College of Physicians and Surgeons’s] policy forcing doctors to make referrals for morally objectionable “treatments” pass. If the Supreme Court of Canada strikes down Canada’s current laws on euthanasia or assisted suicide, then CPSO’s policy would mean Ontario’s physicians would have a “duty to refer” patients for treatments intended to kill the patient.

From the research I have conducted, with the help of the Library of Parliament, I have learned there is not a single jurisdiction in the world that forces doctors to violate their consciences through mandatory referrals for these life-ending “treatments.”

We all recognize it is criminally wrong to aid or abet the commission of a criminal act. In the same way, it would be morally wrong for a doctor to aid or abet (i.e. through referral) the commission of what that doctor deems to be an immoral act – in this case, intentionally killing, or assisting in the killing of, their patient. Following one’s conscience in the provision of euthanasia or assisted suicide, then, entails making a conscientious decision not only about performing euthanasia or assisted suicide, but also about making referrals for them.

The Canadian Medical Association has long been a defender of a physician’s freedom to abstain from being involved in morally objectionable procedures. Last August, the CMA clearly expressed its support for physicians’ freedom of conscience in the provision of euthanasia and assisted suicide should those acts ever be legalized.

In spite of no jurisdiction in the world imposing on physicians a legal duty to refer for euthanasia or assisted suicide, and in spite of the support for freedom of conscience by the national medical organization representing Canada’s physicians, we have the regulatory body in Ontario poised to punish physicians who act upon their moral guidance system that tells them that killing their patients is wrong.

Over the years, there have been repeated attempts by activists and special interest groups to impose their version of morality on all health care workers (almost succeeding in 2008 to convince CPSO to impose mandatory referral, until a loud public outcry from right across the country compelled CPSO to reverse course.) Such was the threatening climate that compelled me to introduce several private members bills, in successive Parliaments, that would protect health care workers who had conscientious objections to being involved in practices that deliberately take human life.

If the Supreme Court strikes down our laws against assisted suicide/euthanasia, then it will be up to Parliament to come up with a new law. It is clear from CPSO’s actions that we can’t leave it to the regulatory bodies to protect freedom of conscience. Any new law to regulate these life-ending medical procedures will need to include explicit protection for those health care workers who won’t take part in any action that aids or abets the killing of their patients.