LN Feature: An Impossible Dilemma
LN: First of all, what’s the status of conscience protection in Ontario? What’s the broader context here in which the Committee was holding its hearings?
LW: Well of course we have Constitutional protections under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but unfortunately the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Ontario has a policy requiring “effective referral” for controversial services like medical aid in dying and abortion.
LN: I read through some of the literature and the history on this. Is it true that Canada is the only jurisdiction in the world that wants to compel physicians to do the referrals for things like MAiD?
LW: That’s absolutely right. No other jurisdiction that allows medical assistance in dying requires physicians to make an “effective referral”.
LN: So what was the gist of your presentation to the Committee?
LW: Well essentially, I tried to explain that for doctors who are committed to the lives of their patients, it’s practically – well it is impossible for them – to be able to contemplate being a cause of the death of their patients. They’ve just seen too many patients who want to die be treated, have a meaningful quality of life afterwards, and they just cannot bring themselves to be the ones to close the book on (their) patients’ life.
LN: So is there a Constitutional issue at play here in terms of the whole freedom of conscience piece? I mean, ultimately, is this going to end up in court on that basis?
LW: We’re already in court. Five physicians in Ontario, as well as three physicians’ organizations, have challenged the College policy on the grounds that it is not constitutional. That it breaches Section 2 of the Charter, which protects freedom of conscience and religion.
LN: So, in the specific context of Bill 84, do you have any idea how the government’s going to respond? The issue of conscience protections isn’t actually covered in the legislation, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest in putting it in there. One person who’s been following this has told me that “conscience protections are simply beyond the scope of Bill 84 because the bill doesn’t actually require physicians to participate.” Any thoughts on that?
LW: Well, because we’ve got this threat from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, we feel that this is the only place for this legislation. We need protection from this College, and it’s up to the Legislature of Ontario to provide that protection.
Now the legislation, by the way, protects doctors who are going to provide medical assistance in dying. Why should it not also protect doctors who have conscientious objections to this?
LN: Any idea in terms of process where it goes from here? What happens when the Committee finishes the study? Will Bill 84 be law by summer? Any chance of any amendments? What’s your read on it?
LW: Right now it’s hard to say. We know that there will be an amendment coming from the Conservatives. The NDP seem very sensitive to this issue. It’s really the Liberal government that we’re concerned about. They just seem to be not open to providing us with the support that we’re looking for. The final decision will be made by the Committee on April 11th.