Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 2, 2009
Physicians fear regulation would force them to do abortion referrals
St. Luke guild makes impassioned plea to College of Physicians, Surgeons
WCR PHOTO|GLEN ARGAN
Dr. Mary Ellen Haggerty says Catholic doctors could never refer a patient for an abortion.
BY LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — The 100 Catholic physicians who belong to Edmonton’s St. Luke’s Physicians Guild do not want to be forced to refer a patient for an abortion.
“They couldn’t do it,” says guild chair Dr. Mary Ellen Haggerty.
But that is what they fear will happen should the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta adopt its proposed Standards of Practice.
These standards will be demanded from all health professions as the province seeks to establish an umbrella of common guidelines under the Health Professions Act.
The college’s proposal says that even if a physician is opposed to offering birth control or “termination of pregnancy,” he or she must ensure that any patient who seeks advice or medical care on these topics receive it.
In an impassioned plea to the college, St. Luke’s Guild says, “Referring a patient for treatment infers that the referring physician approves and recommends the treatment. Referral for abortion or birth control makes the referring physician complicit in providing that option.”
The letters asks, “If it was known that physicians had to check their conscience at the door, would any patient trust a physician to do what was in the patient’s best interests?”
Another point the letter makes is “If one type of problem deserves instant response and acquiescence, what is to stop patients from asking for any number of things. Physicians will be seen as technicians to serve at the bidding of their patients.”
In an interview following a Feb. 23 executive meeting of St. Luke’s Guild, Haggerty pointed out, “Issues of conscience affect doctors on an almost daily basis, not only with these topics.
“If physicians are forced to act against their conscience, it not only impacts them, it affects their relationship with all their patients, not for the just one or two that might be involved in this issue. It is pretty serious.”
That point was underlined in the guild’s letter to the college when it said, “Just one patient demanding the convenience of an instant referral could put the physician’s entire career in jeopardy.
“In addition, all the other patients would be orphaned.”
Haggerty said the Alberta Medical Association “totally supports a physician’s right of conscience and they should never be forced to act contrary to their religious and moral principals. They are certainly onside with us.”
Ron Kustra, assistant executive director of the AMA, said the AMA has taken the stand that “Physicians should not be forced to take part in actions outside of their personal belief systems.”
The AMA, he said, adheres to the Canadian Medical Associations’ standards that say a physician does “not have to refer a patient to another doctor.”
The college’s next consideration of the various proposals, including the paragraph concerning abortion referral, will take place in March.
Haggerty says the guild will have a chance to respond if the disputed paragraph is not resolved.
What will happen if the clause passes and the Catholic physicians are compelled by law to make abortion referrals?
Haggerty replies, “It may affect people’s access to physicians because some may not be able to practise at all.”
When asked if the public can do anything, Haggerty suggests they make their concerns known to the College of Physicians and Surgeons.