Monday, June 12, 2017

A doctor speaks out about conscience rights

By An Ontario Doctor

I received a copy of this letter from a doctor. The doctor is writing about health care workers' conscience rights.

To my Member of Provincial Parliament of the Liberal Party,

I am deeply disappointed by the Liberal Party's willful disregard of the conscience rights of health care professionals when they voted in unison to defeat Bill 129 (An Act to amend the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991).

I realize now the utter powerlessness that minority citizens, like myself, have in the face of governments who have differing ideals.  I depended upon my elected member of parliament to speak for me, to be my voice and my vote on the one issue over which I have agonized for the past two years, an issue that has affected not only my freedom in how I practice my craft, but also the well being of countless patients (among whom you and I will be counted one day) who will be affected by the ramifications of this shift in health care policy.  I cannot help but to feel let down by both federal and provincial governments that have decided to play a political game based on faulty arguments which you and I both know are untrue.  For example, the argument of the patient who is so isolated and helpless that they cannot telephone to self-refer for MAID, is a fictitious patient that does not exist - but if on the rare occasion that such a patient actually did exist, then helping them to get on a pathway to be euthanized is perhaps the wrong immediate focus before other supports have been put into place first!

Which is why I don't understand the argument so often used by the Liberal party to discount conscience rights -  that upholding conscience rights would somehow limit access to service.  This argument is false, as has been shown in other jurisdictions that have allowed euthanasia and assisted suicide while still respecting conscience rights.  However, if the belief is that upholding conscience rights does in fact limit access to service, then this stated belief is incoherent with other statements made that conscience rights is already protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Preamble of C-14.  If conscience rights are, as stated, already protected, then what would be the harm of upholding these rights in legislation?  It is precisely because these rights are NOT sufficiently protected in light of the Carter decision that there is a need for explicit legislative protection, and which the Federal Government expected provinces to enact provincially.  Instead, the Ontario government has shirked its responsibility of protecting fundamental freedoms that are being eroded with seemingly no consequence to regulating colleges keen to impose policies that violate human rights due to their own faulty understanding of what it means to respect conscience rights.

Not enacting laws that protect freedom of conscience is analogous to saying, at the Federal level, that because everyone has a Charter Right to Life, there is no need for a law prohibiting murder because a person's right to life is already protected under the Charter.  Charter rights are guiding foundational principles upon which laws are created and by which they must abide.  Nowhere has there been any evidence produced that demonstrates upholding the Charter rights of Freedom of Conscience in Legislation infringes upon another person's right to life (which was the reason why physician-assisted suicide was permitted).  Furthermore, the Care Coordination System which the government has agreed to create (thank you very much) resolves the public fear of potential restrictions to access.  

A Charter of Rights and Freedoms is effective in granting rights only in so far as those words are respected in action, which, on this issue, has not been the case.

It is clear from the Liberal party's stance that it sides with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), which the Canadian Medical Association has stated holds an "impoverished" understanding of conscience, and which does not respect differences of conscience.  Just because one might believe it is okay to do something a certain way does not mean that another person believes the same.  And it is wrong to coerce another person in doing what they deeply believe to be wrong even if one may think it is for a perceived good (in this case, the death of a suffering person), no matter how hard one tries to justify this coercion by looking to other people who may have reconciled their own consciences with the objectionable act.  This is where differences in conscience plays out, and so far, the Liberal government has firmly decided it would only protect the conscience rights of some, but not all, health professionals in trying to achieve that "balance" so oft spoken.

What your party has demonstrated by word and action is that it is okay to not respect those who cannot participate in an effective referral for the death of their patient.  If this is not what you believe, and only what your party has asked you to support, then I am truly sorry that you are placed in a position in which you must contort your own words and actions so as to align yourself with what has been asked of you, without the freedom to voice what you truly believe.  And if your words and actions are indeed a true representation of what you believe and stand for, then I am saddened that you are unable to see the truth behind the harms that your beliefs and position will cause for the greater society.  One of the best, most comprehensive speeches I have heard on the subject was given by Cardinal Müller.  You may wish to read the full text here.

When the voice of reason became overshadowed by political antics on an issue that should never have become a victim of partisan politics, I came to the clear realization that if the majority government espouses values that are fundamentally different from my own, elected members of provincial parliament will only do what their Party dictates, and not, as I had previously supposed and hoped, what we elected them to be, as a voice for their constituents.  In casting my vote at the next election, I will bear this in mind, and favour a party (and not any one individual), that has demonstrated a commitment to upholding the fundamental freedoms upon which our democracy rests.

Despite my deep disappointment and sadness over a situation that remains incomprehensible to me, I just want you to know that I think of you and pray for you often, for your well-being, and for your good.  I ask that perhaps you might also do the same for me, and keep me in your prayers.

your local physician

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