Doctor’s Right to Conscientious Objection

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

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

S7K 0C1

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:

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.


Jane Korvemaker

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!

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As a Woman

My Lenten reading consists of one book that I’m hopeful I will be able to read in full: Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey. While it feels like one book seems a little meagre, I look at my children and I think ‘Ah, yes. One book should be much more than enough.’


I was looking forward to this book after reading a bit about the author and her general perspective on Jesus and his (and our) lived-out faith. Basic premises: Jesus was a feminist. And not in the secular-type way, but in the bringing-fullness-to-humanity-type way.

She demonstrates many examples of this through Scripture, but one that has stuck with me (so far) is the story of the crippled woman.

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. Luke 13:10-17.

This is what stands out to me: Jesus saying, ‘And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for these eighteen long years, be set free…?’

In a time and a cultural history in which the sons of Abraham have been given glory and honour and historical mention, it is in stark contrast that Jesus refers to the woman as a daughter of Abraham. As a daughter of Abraham, she deserves God’s grace. I can almost visualise Jesus standing there in the synagogue, trying not to falter at their bad logic. ‘You hypocrites! You treat your animals better than you would a daughter of Abraham?! Her healing brings glory to God on the sabbath!’ He shows incredulity at what they consider ‘honouring the sabbath.’ Women were valuable in Jesus’ eyes. They were equal in value to him as men were and (surprisingly?) are so even now. Women are key components in the cosmological saving plan of God, or we would not have shared being created in the first place.

I am reminded of so many forgotten women in today’s age. Most obviously to me are the missing and murdered aboriginal women of whom our governments and local forces wish to forget. These are some of the forgotten women in our time. Their stories have been pushed to the wayside in the hopes that no one would notice. Their lives did not matter to the governments in their time, but they do matter to God, and therefore to us. Their lives deserve God’s grace and equal recognition. And the fact of the matter is this: we are Jesus’ hands and feet. We are the ones who need to step up and recognise their dignity and support it in any way we can. Through Jesus and the Spirit, we are God’s action in this world and we need to spend it in a way that illumines the world to God’s all-encompassing love.

As Sarah Bessey states early on, patriarchy is not God’s dream for humanity. Jesus’ actions demonstrate that and his example, over and over again, informs us of the inherent and equal dignity women have in God’s eyes. God’s plan for us is waaay beyond anything we can imagine. God’s dreams for us follow suite to the image of the mustard seed. If only we had the faith to believe…

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Lenten Reflection

winterI wrote a short Lenten reflection on the Gospel for today (Matthew 25: 31-46) for Mike at I Am Third. Head over there for a short time of prayer for Lent today! Mike is offering a great daily source of prayer on his website for Lent – be sure to take advantage of it!

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Interview with a 5-year-old Spencer

Our big boy turned 5 at the beginning of this month. It’s crazy how quickly time continues to go by. If you follow me on twitter or facebook, you’ll know he has a recent love for sweatpants, and I think in total he’s received 5 pairs this birthday. He is loving them like crazy.

As I did last year on his 4th birthday, I asked him some interview questions to reflect his current interests and thoughts. 2015-02-02 14.18.41What is your favourite colour?


What is your favourite toy?


What is your favourite food?


What kind of food do you not like?


What do you want to do when you grow up?

Be a car racer guy.

What do you like to do with Daddy?

Go to work (occasionally he attends Andy’s work with him).

What do you like to do with Mommy?

Doing school.

What does Daddy do?

He works at the church and he works at home.

What does Mommy do?

Works at home and cleans up everything. And sweeps the floor.

What does Felicity do?

She crawls around and finds stuff and eats stuff.

What does Cassia do?

She plays with me.

What does Spencer do?

Play with Cassia.

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Mis-placed Compassion

Here in Canada we have just received a terrible blow to respect for the dignity of individuals. The Supreme Court has (erroneously) ruled that doctor-assisted suicide is a fundamental right of Canadians.

This is wrong on several accounts. Some points I take issue with:

The first being that we do not gain our dignity by what we do or how we live it. We have our dignity by the very state of being human. To view it as otherwise creates a rhetoric of utilitarianism. states that utilitariansim is “A system of ethics according to which the rightness or wrongness of an action should be judged by its consequences. The goal of utilitarian ethics is to promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” It does not value the dignity of people and supports “the end justifies the means” attitude. Its logic lends to attitudes that base the dignity of any person by the consequence of their life. Therefore, if they are not useful or do not produce, they are not valued because they do not contribute (or contribute as much) to the happiness (or goal) of the majority. People with disabilities, people with depression, and others in situations that take away from the “happiness for the greatest number” are not favourable to maintain dignity and are easily cast to the wayside. To view human dignity by any other means than that of it being an inherent part of the human condition is to default to this utilitarian rhetoric.

Secondly, the worth of someone becomes defined by a relativist reasoning system. Those who cannot stand up for themselves find their lives are up for debate by those who may or may not be willing to care for them. While currently it is reported thatThe ruling only applies to competent adults with enduring, intolerable suffering who clearly consent to ending their lives.” (source: This clearly has been shown to not be the case in the European countries who have adopted doctor-assisted suicide. This is demonstrated by recent cases in Belgium: “twins who died by euthanasia because they feared becoming blind, the woman with Anorexia Nervosa who died by euthanasia after her psychiatrist had sexual relations with her, the depressed woman who died by euthanasia, and the person who died by euthanasia after a botched sex change operation.” (source: Belgium also has documentation of assisted death in cases where there was no explicit consent given, despite the fact that is it a legal requirement.  Though illegal to begin with, the Netherlands now supports euthanizing infants and children as well.

This is extremely relevant in our times as we are on the verge of a large group of people, the baby boomers, entering into retirement and elderly lifestyles. Under a utilitarian approach (to which euthanasia abides), this means that as they become elderly and less able to take care of themselves, they start to become a “burden” on society in taking up valuable medical expertise, money, and space. They no longer produce, so care for their predicaments when there is an easy out (euthanasia), becomes lost or abandoned. “For if one can be benefited by being killed, is it reasonable to deprive people of that benefit simply because they are incapable of asking to be killed?” ( This applies also to others in vulnerable states, such as the disabled, the depressed, those with diseases of varying types, etc. When the decision of worth/dignity is not based on the inherent value of being human, it becomes subject to relativism, and therefore also subject to no standard of interpretation or respect.

Thirdly, there is currently serious debate in Canada (Saskatchewan already proposing a draft) in over-riding doctors’  freedom of conscience in practice. This means that doctors would not have the freedom to support the dignity of humans, regardless of their state of life or other help that they could provide, if they ask to be euthanized.

The practice of medicine cannot flourish unless doctors are so disposed that they inspire trust in patients many of whom are extremely vulnerable. Doctors will not inspire trust unless patients are confident that doctors

  • are for no reasons disposed to kill them;
  • have no inclination to ask whether a patient is worth caring for or treating, rather than asking what care or treatment might benefit the patient.

But the practice of euthanasia systematically undermines both of the required dispositions. For it disposes doctors to kill certain of their patients, and it inculcates a disposition to think of some patients as not having worthwhile lives.

Finally, I have to quote the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Helping someone commit suicide, however, is neither an act of justice or mercy, nor is it part of palliative care. The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada today does not change Catholic teaching. “[A]n act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, our Creator. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2277).

These are just a few of the reasons that seem to have been overlooked in favour of euthanasia. The worrying part is that this is likely (historically, based on other countries’ decisions) only going to get worse unless the ruling is reverted. So what is it that we might be able to do in face of this horrible decision by the Supreme Court? Support groups that support the dignity of all humans, like L’Arche, all efforts of real palliative care, access to nursing homes, and support of doctors’ freedom of conscience in grave moral matters (to support them, please give feedback on the proposed draft to eliminate it in Saskatchewan!).

And ultimately, at this point, our greatest calling that we can do is outlined by the Archbishop of Gatineau, Paul-André Durocher:

The Bishops of our country invite Canadians, especially Catholics, to do all they can to bring comfort and support for all those who are dying and for their loved ones, so that no one, because of loneliness, vulnerability, loss of autonomy, or fear of pain and suffering, feels they have no choice but to commit suicide.

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