Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 1, 2008
Professional body chokes docs’ ethics
Ontario’s draft policy says doctors must set aside personal beliefs
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
"Should doctors be forced to do things they believe will harm their patients?"
- Dr. Rene Leiva
"Refusal on conscientious or religious grounds to refer a woman for an abortion could be deemed professional misconduct under this new policy," Dr. Will Johnston, president of Canadian Physicians for Life, wrote in a letter to CPSO, asking for more time to study the policy.
"If doctors feel coerced into compromising their deepest convictions as a result of this policy, certainly that's a problem - not only for the integrity of physicians, but also for the welfare of their patients," Johnston wrote.
Leiva agreed. Palliative care forms a big part of his practice. He said he dreaded the possible legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia that might make his refusal to kill his patients the subject of a complaint.
He also wondered who would be the guardian of medical principles: regulatory bodies like the CPSO or human rights commissions. If the latter, the college is "abdicating its responsibility to protect society," he said.
The Protection of Conscience Project was one of the first organizations to sound the alarm about the proposed policy change.
Sean Murphy, administrator of the Project, said an Ontario physician "stumbled" upon the news of the draft document in June and contacted him.
The only defence a doctor will have for refusing treatment will be incompetence, said Murphy, who is based in Powell River, B.C.
The draft policy uses as an example of a code violation a physician's refusal on religious grounds to provide a referral to a homosexual couple seeking fertility treatment, he said. Since fertility treatments routinely involve referrals, almost all physicians could be affected.
"The problem with the human rights code is that anyone can make a complaint," Murphy said. "It costs them nothing to do so, but the defendant, in responding to the complaint, faces thousands in legal fees."
The policy could be preparing the ground for the elimination of pro-life doctors, Leiva said. "Should doctors be forced to do things they believe will harm their patients?"
Leiva, who comes from El Salvador, said he is inspired by the example of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in 1980, the day after he gave a homily asking soldiers to obey their consciences and resist oppression by not killing innocent people.
There is a connection to what Romero asked the soldiers to do and what doctors must do when it comes to political authorities, he said.
If the Ontario body changes its policy, it could affect all other provinces, Leiva said.
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.