Here is my letter to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan regarding their draft policy that would eliminate doctor’s right to conscientious objection. Thanks to the Saskatchewan Pro-Life Association for their draft letters they provided to help with responding to this catastrophe in medical ethics.
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan
500-321A-21st Street East
Dear Members of the Consultations Committee:
Subject: Draft Policy “Conscientious Refusal”.
I am writing to you with grave concern regarding the content of your proposed draft policy. The proposed draft suggests that physicians who decline to participate in certain acts for reasons of conscience should be compelled to refer their patients to other physicians who will perform these acts. It does not address the fact that many of these same physicians will find the act of referral itself objectionable, as they consider it material cooperation with the act. If the College does not fully understand what ‘material cooperation with the act’ is and its consequences, I suggest doing broad-based consulting with people who are well-versed in morality and ethics before approving this draft. In compelling physicians to refer, you are limiting their right to conscientious objection.
There is significant disagreement in our society as to what constitutes a moral act, and I do not expect the College to define or limit morality. All I expect is that physicians, as professionals, be allowed to respect their own consciences. Freedom of conscience is foundational to our free society and cannot be limited, even for the best of intentions. If we coerce physicians into violating their consciences we will inevitably erode the personal integrity which is the basis of the physician’s relationship with their patients.
It is my understanding that American Medical Association recently responded to the Ontario draft that is remarkably similar to the Saskatchewan one. You can find their response here: http://policyconsult.cpso.on.
I quote (from the document above) and support their analysis of the draft, which is directly related to the proposed draft I am responding about:
The College’s draft policy provides that, when a physician is “unwilling to provide certain elements of care on moral or religious grounds,” the physician must provide “an effective referral” to “a nonobjecting, available, and accessible physician or other health care provider.”
This seems to us to overstate a duty to refer, risk making the physician morally complicit in violation of deeply held personal beliefs, and falls short of according appropriate respect to the physician as a moral agent. On our view, a somewhat less stringent formulation of a duty to refer better serves the goals of non-abandonment, continuity of care, and respect for physicians’ moral agency. The council concluded that:
In general, physicians should refer a patient to another physician or institution to provide treatment the physician declines to offer. When a deeply held, well-considered personal belief leads a physician also to decline to refer, the physician should offer impartial guidance to patients about how to inform themselves regarding access to desired services.
Perhaps this has escaped the College’s notice, but I would also like to draw their attention to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Were one to glance over it one would notice that there are listed 4 fundamental freedoms that come before all others. The first of these freedoms is freedom of conscience and religion. It does not say “freedom of conscience and religion, except for the medical profession.” The College is informed by and obligated to our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and would do well to not contend with eliminating conscientious freedom in their policy. I do not support a system that forces its own moral agenda onto the profession of medics – it is completely un-Canadian to do so and such policies do not belong in this free country.
I encourage you to revise the sections above, and include a clear defense of the right to freedom of conscience for all physicians.
Cc: Premier Brad Wall
Honourable Dustin Duncan, Minister of Health
I hope that, if you live in Saskatchewan, you’ve had a chance to respond to this yourself. This is a chance for us to make a difference – make your voice be heard! Today is the last day they will accept feedback on this document. Please pray that they will listen to rightful opposition and heed the recommendations!