December 29, 2014

TORONTO – Catholic doctors who won't perform abortions or provide abortion referrals should leave family medicine, says an official of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

"It may well be that you would have to think about whether you can practise family medicine as it is defined in Canada and in most of the Western countries," said Dr. Marc Gabel, chair of the college's policy working group.

The Ontario doctor's organization released a draft policy Dec. 11 that would require all doctors to provide referrals for abortions, morning-after pills and contraception.

The revised policy is in response to evolving obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code, Gabel said.

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has made no decisions against doctors for failing to refer for abortion or contraception.

Gabel said there's plenty of room for conscientious Catholics in various medical specialties, but a moral objection to abortion and contraception will put family doctors on the wrong side of human rights legislation and current professional practice.

The draft policy has been posted to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario web site ( Doctors and members of the public are invited to comment on it up to Feb. 20.

"Where physicians are unwilling to provide certain elements of care due to their moral or religious beliefs, an effective referral to another health care provider must be provided to the patient. An effective referral means a referral made in good faith to a non-objecting, available and accessible physician or other health-care provider.

"The referral must be made in a timely manner to reduce the risk of adverse clinical outcomes. Physicians must not impede access to care for existing patients, or those seeking to become patients," reads the proposed new policy.

While the college cannot force doctors to comply with its policies, doctors who step outside college policy become much more vulnerable to legal actions.

The right of doctors to their own conscience is part of their professional practice. The doctor-patient relationship should not be reduced to mere service provision, said Moira McQueen, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute.