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Ontario Healthcare Workers Need Conscience Protection

I want to bring to your attention a matter of importance from the healthcare community.  Last month, Federal Parliament passed Bill C-7, further expanding euthanasia* access in Canada.**  As a rural family physician, I have had a front-line view on the implications of the changing legislation regarding euthanasia.  I recently sat in the home of an elderly man in my practice.  His body is failing, and he is facing the reality that he can no longer live independently.  Though not terminally ill nor in pain, he doesn’t want to cause trouble for anyone – so he asked for euthanasia.  He ended up deciding to move to a retirement home, yet his very request places me in a difficult position.  

Affirming the value of every human life, and committed to first do no harm, I and many other healthcare workers are morally opposed to euthanasia and desire to conscientiously abstain from involvement.  Unfortunately, the regulatory body for Ontario doctors, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, requires “taking positive action to ensure the patient is connected to a non-objecting, available, and accessible physician, other health-care professional, or agency.”  As understood by many, the requirement to take positive action involves complicity with the act itself.  A great deal of effort has been spent advocating for better conscience protection: from direct advocacy with the College, countless communications with politicians, and a court challenge – all to no avail.  Ontario is one of the only jurisdictions in the world that does not provide robust conscience protection for its healthcare workers.

To provide adequate protection, conscientious objection must be guaranteed by provincial law.

There is currently an important opportunity to influence the Ontario provincial government toward providing legislation that protects healthcare workers who conscientiously object to involvement in euthanasia – principally, nurses, pharmacists, and doctors.  To provide adequate protection, conscientious objection must be guaranteed by provincial law.  I’m asking you to consider contacting your MPP to voice your support of this initiative.  More resources, including letter-writing tools, can be found at the Coalition for Conscience website.  

In addition to the concern of those in healthcare, I want to point out that this matter relates more broadly to justice.  Bill C-7 has been vehemently opposed by vulnerable persons and those who support them.  Here is an open letter to Parliament that describes Bill C-7 as “dangerous and discriminatory” by suggesting that a disability may be “unlivable” and therefore requires access to euthanasia.  I also draw your attention to this powerful statement from UN Human Rights experts, which states: “Disability should never be a ground or justification to end someone’s life directly or indirectly.” Our government has chosen to ignore disability rights advocates in passing this legislation.

I pray the Holy Spirit guide you in advocating

I conclude with a statement taken from the synodical report, Regarding Responsibility and Community at the End of Life, “Our society must not accept assisted suicide or mercy killing as appropriate responses to the burden life may become. In keeping with this principle, we believe it is incumbent on the church to encourage government initiatives that protect the weak and vulnerable in society.”   I pray the Holy Spirit guide you in advocating for the protection of your vulnerable neighbours, and healthcare workers like myself who care for them.

*In this blog posting, I deliberately use the term “euthanasia”, rather than “medical assistance in dying”, as I feel the latter is too easily confused with the appropriate provision of palliative care.

** Bill C-7, “An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying)”, expands access to euthanasia to those whose death is not reasonably foreseeable, as was previously legislated.  Euthanasia is now available to all adults with a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability as a response to intolerable suffering that cannot be alleviated by means acceptable to them.  For now, mental illness is excluded as a sole reason for access but it is expected this will be included in the near future.

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