Canadian Committee Recommends Requiring Doctors Opposed to Euthanasia to Provide Referrals

Photo Credit: Julia Freeman Woolpert
Photo Credit: Julia Freeman Woolpert

Pro-life groups in Canada are expressing concern after a parliamentary committee recently recommended that doctors who have objections to assisted suicide provide patients who seek to end their lives referrals to other physicians who are willing to provide euthanasia services.

As previously reported, last February, the Canadian Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a law providing criminal penalties for those who take part in ending the life of another should be amended to allow some adults with terminal and “intolerable” conditions to request assistance from their doctors in ending their lives.

“[W]e do not agree that the existential formulation of the right to life requires an absolute prohibition on assistance in dying, or that individuals cannot ‘waive’ their right to life. This would create a ‘duty to live,’ rather than a ‘right to life,’” the court said in regard to a complete ban on the practice, “and would call into question the legality of any consent to the withdrawal or refusal of lifesaving or life-sustaining treatment.”

However, the court also ruled that doctors cannot be forced to participate in a patient’s death.

“In our view, nothing in the declaration of invalidity which we propose to issue would compel physicians to provide assistance in dying,” it stated.

The court then gave lawmakers one year to make adjustments to the current law to create certain allowances for physician assisted suicide.

Last month, a parliamentary Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying issued recommendations for how to follow the court’s declaration, but stated that conscientious objectors should be required to provide referrals to other physicians who have no issue with euthanasia.

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“That the Government of Canada work with the provinces and territories and their medical regulatory bodies to establish a process that respects a health care practitioner’s freedom of conscience while at the same time respecting the needs of a patient who seeks medical assistance in dying,” the recommendation reads. “At a minimum, the objecting practitioner must provide an effective referral for the patient.”

But faith-based groups state that if parliament enacts such a rule, it would still violate the religious beliefs of Canadian doctors.

“Requiring ‘effective referral’ would materially violate—not respect—a ‘practitioner’s freedom of conscience’ through forced complicity in euthanasia, thereby trampling his faith under the boot of the state,” writes Wesley Smith of the Discovery Institute for the Institute on Religion and Family Life.

Smith notes that referrals aren’t the only concern with Parliament’s recommendations, as they also leave no opt-out for nurses and physician’s assistants who do not wish to take part in ending the lives of patients.

“[T]he difficult but most righteous course would be to engage in a policy of total non-cooperation with the culture of death, forcing the national and provincial governments and medical colleges either to turn a blind eye or to inflict unjust punishments on doctors for refusing to kill,” he wrote. “Perhaps such draconian measures would bring the country to its senses.”

To date, an estimated 5,000 Canadian physicians have joined with the Coalition for Healthcare and Conscience to take a stand against the recommendations.

“In Canada, everyone has the right to their faith and their conscience. The coming legalization of physician-assisted suicide will put healthcare practitioners and facilities in a compromised position,” the Coalition’s website outlines. “Those who cannot support assisted suicide or euthanasia because of their conscience, faith and commitment to the Hippocratic Oath could be forced to compromise their convictions. They shouldn’t have to.”

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  • Providing a referral is a direct violation of the Hippocratic oath: “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.”
    Perhaps the doctors have sworn a watered down version of the Hippocratic oath, which has only the name of Hippocrates, but none of his morality. I found a watered down modern version that omits prohibitions against taking sexual advantage, and omits provisions about injustice … it even omits the mild curse for violating it … hey wait, that is not the Hippocratic oath at all! I should have a chat with my doctor…

    • acontraryview

      The original oath began with: “I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius the surgeon, likewise Hygeia and Panacea, and call all the gods and goddesses to witness,”

      The current oath doctors take reads:

      I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:…

      I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

      I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

      I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

      I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

      I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. Above all, I must not play at God.

      I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

      I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

      I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

      If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

      It does not contain the phrases you mentioned.

      • Indeed. You quoted the pretender to the oath in full, but you failed to do a comparison.

        • acontraryview

          The oath is what it is and it does not contain the phrases you cited.

          • You said that already and you were wrong.

          • acontraryview

            How so?

          • Completely.

          • acontraryview

            That’s not an answer to the question, but no surprise there.

  • Time to secure the northern border.