Bill C-230: Protection of Freedom of Conscience Act
Since the legalization of medical assistance in dying (MAiD) in 2016, there has been little protection for medical professionals who refuse to participate in providing MAiD. Since 2016, access to euthanasia has only continued to expand. Doctors with conscientious objections will increasingly run into problems with patient requests for MAiD.
Currently, Manitoba is the only province that specifically protects the conscience rights of physicians. Under Manitoba’s legislation, medical professionals can refuse to participate in MAiD if it is against their personal convictions with no negative repercussions.
This provincial policy is one that should be implemented in all the provinces. However, the federal government also has the ability to protect conscience in the context of MAiD through the Criminal Code.
On February 4, 2022, MP Kelly Block tabled Bill C-230, the Protection of Freedom of Conscience Act. Bill C-230 would amend the Criminal Code to make it an offence to intimidate a health care professional (medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist, etc.) in order to compel them to participate in providing MAiD. It would also protect medical professionals from being hired or fired based on their willingness to take part in providing MAiD, directly or indirectly.
Freedom of conscience, protected under section 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is critical for a strong medical system. Health care professionals must be able to do their job based on their moral framework and conscientious convictions. Canada’s medical system must allow for open dialogue between patients and physicians about the best options for medical care. Patients should be able to go to a doctor whom they can trust to act in their patient’s best interests.
Bill C-230 is an important piece of legislation that would protect those who object to MAiD for reasons of conscience. Without legislation, provincial regulatory bodies that oversee physicians have the power to require active participation in MAiD. For example, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario requires that medical professionals must provide an effective referral for patients who request MAiD, subject to disciplinary action if they refuse. This means that they must connect the patient with a doctor who will end their life and cannot express disagreement with MAiD to the patient.
Health care professionals throughout Canada need meaningful protection so that they can continue to practice medicine while following their conscientious convictions. No medical professional should be forced to participate in killing their patients. We should make every effort to support this bill to protect freedom of conscience for health care professionals. Please email your MP and ask them to support Bill C-230.