Conscience rights are under attack in Ontario as the issue of effective referral by doctors for assisted dying comes under legal scrutiny.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) is headed to court for their policies which put the conscience rights of healthcare professionals in jeopardy. According to the court filings, “The CPSO has adopted (1) a Human Rights Policy mandating effective referrals and obligatory emergency care even if it conflicts with conscience or religious beliefs; and (2) a Medical Assistance in Dying Policy that specifically requires effective referrals for euthanasia and assisted suicide.” So why does effective referral violate conscience rights? According to Dr. Ramona Coelho, she, and other like-minded doctors, feel that effective referral, which is the duty to refer even if they don’t feel it is in the best interest of the patient, is participation in assisted dying. As Dr. Coelho told Context TV, “This idea of effective referral is participation. When someone feels, has a deep religious belief that this is evil, this is a wrong, that is enough participation with evil, it’s too much.”
I find the CPSO measures troubling for many reasons, but first and foremost because they are limiting religious freedom. As a government regulatory agency, the CPSO is supposed to be impartial and treat its members equally, no matter their race, religion, sex, etc. According to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, everyone has the right to freedom of conscience and religion; everyone, it would appear, except medical professionals in Ontario. According to Dr. Coelho, every other district in Canada has made allowances for conscientious objectors which have still provided access for patients, except Ontario.
Canada is a country that was founded on religious principles. Enshrined in its Charter of Rights and Freedoms is religious freedom. Should the policies of the CPSO be allowed to remain, Canada will be entering the next 150 years of its dominion without the assurance of religious freedom. If religious freedom is put in jeopardy, then who is to say that the rest of the Charter rights will not also be set aside?
As Canadians, we need to ask ourselves, do we want a future where foundational rights can be set aside whenever the government decides?
Or do we want a future that protects the rights of all people, whether they adhere to a religion or not? As a person of faith, I want a future that protects my right to object when my conscience requires without fear of recrimination.
With files from Susan Ponting.