Doctors morally opposed to medical assistance in dying are caught between the law and their rights under the Charter as they argue that a policy which requires them to refer patients for medically assisted death is ethically the same as being directly involved in the patient’s death.
This is the issue the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada (CMDS) contends as it prepares to take the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) to court over its “effective referral” policy.
“The concern was essentially for the applicants [in the case], and for many other physicians, to refer for a procedure is morally the same as actually doing it,” said Larry Worthen, executive director of the CMDS. “Evangelical Catholic and Orthodox Jewish theological authorities backed us up on that. In addition, there are many other people who might not have a formal religious affiliation, but who may have a commitment to the Hippocratic Oath, and for those people as well it forces them to act against their conscience, which is protected under section 2 of the Charter.”
Worthen said the CMDS would like an amendment to Bill 84, the Medical Assistance in Dying Statute Law Amendment Act, which is working its way through the legislature right now.
“We’d like to see a clause that says that participation in medical aid in dying is voluntary and we define participation to include performing, assisting in the performance of, and referral for [medically assisted death],” explained Worthen. “We intentionally exempt providing information about [medical assistance in dying], discussing and transferring the patient’s chart to the patient. And also for a conscientious objector to advise someone of authority in their workplace that the patient and the physician have a difference of opinion on this and the patient has requested a complete transfer of care. We are definitely not trying to block access. We understand it’s the patient’s choice.”
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