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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