February 8, 2018

Ontario Court rules against physicians’ conscience rights

The Divisional Court of Ontario in a unanimous decision (3 Judges) ruled in favour of the  College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario and its “effective referral ” policy. An effective referral means that physicians who have a conscientious objection to certain procedures such as euthanasia, assisted suicide and abortion, must refer the patient to another physician willing to do the deed. For physicians unwilling to kill patients, the referral, they believe, makes them complicit with the act.

Albertos Polizogopoulos, a lawyer representing a coalition of 4700 physicians opposing the effective referral policy, argued that it violated their section 2 rights to freedom of conscience and religion protected in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court found that while the effective referral policy infringed on the physicians’ freedom of conscience and religion, it was justified in order to ensure access to health care.  According to the Court, the effective referral policy was a “reasonable limit on religious freedom, demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Mr. Polizogopoulos commented: “Our position is doctors who opposed assisted suicide or physician assisted death are put in a position now where they either need to violate their conscience and their religious and moral belief or face being disciplined by the college – and that’s not a good place to be.”

Canadian Physicians for Life responded to the Court’s decision with a media statement from their President Dr. Ryan Wilson:
“This is a disappointing decision and puts our doctors – doctors who entered the field of medicine to provide quality, compassionate, and patient-centered care – in an impossible position.They don’t believe ending a patient’s life is medicine, and they don’t believe they can offer hope and healing in one room while assisting in killing a patient in another. Ultimately it is patient care that suffers, as our doctors will retire early, relocate, or change fields. For many, their religious and conscience rights are being violated and they won’t be able to practice medicine in Ontario. This is a significant loss for the entire health care system in the province and will have a direct impact on patient care.”

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