Larry Worthen, Christian Medical and Dental Society's executive director, says Christians need to realize physicians' freedom of conscience is being 'seriously threatened.'


Larry Worthen, Christian Medical and Dental Society's executive director, says Christians need to realize physicians' freedom of conscience is being '"seriously threatened."

June 29, 2015

Christian pro-life physicians are facing a major battle to protect their conscience rights in the face of the Supreme Court decision to legalize assisted suicide.

"We are in a pitched battle in Canada to protect the conscience rights of Christian physicians to uphold their right to practise medicine based on their values and beliefs without interference," said Larry Worthen, executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS).

"What can happen, if it doesn't go the right way, is that they will be faced with giving up their beliefs or leaving the practice of medicine."

Worthen, in an interview during the first-ever joint national conference of the CDMS and the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians' Societies, said the situation is coming to a head and the battle will be won or lost in the next six months.

The Supreme Court on Feb. 6 said people who are mentally competent and who suffer intolerably and permanently should have the right to a doctor's assistance if they wish to take their own lives.

The court gave the federal government one year to approve a new law regulating assisted suicide. However, the government has put off introducing legislation until after the Oct. 19 election.


"It will all happen in the next six months. This battle will be settled by then," Worthen said. "People have to start to lobby legislators at every level now or the battle will be lost, and everyone will be the loser in the long run."

The issue of doctors' conscience rights was front and centre at the joint meeting of the two physicians' conferences in Calgary June 12-14.

As well, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has already approved a policy requiring Ontario physicians who will not assist a patient to commit suicide to refer them to a qualified physician who will assist them.

Together with the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians' Societies and Physicians for Life, the CMDS, a national ecumenical group of physicians and dentists, has launched a court challenge to the Ontario college's new policy.

Worthen said the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Saskatchewan is also considering whether to adopt a similar policy.

However, in a letter to the Ontario college, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has supported the position of the Christian doctors.

"In their letter, the CMA said they did not feel it was appropriate for the colleges to require physicians who were in good conscience opposed to physician-assisted suicide to make referrals," he said.

On the other hand, Worthen said the CMA has decided the issue of physician-assisted suicide and conscience rights will come up for debate at its August meeting.

It is puzzling, he said, that, after supporting the CMDS' position, the CMA will now debate the issue and allow a majority vote to determine its position.

The CMA should maintain its stand that a physician should not have to make a referral or take part in an assisted suicide, he said. Nor should they be discriminated against for their refusal to be involved.

"The stand of the CMDS is to uphold the right of a physician to neither engage in the act of physician-assisted death nor should they be required to refer."

Also a deacon for the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth and a lawyer, Worthen said Catholic moral theology teaches that a referral for an intrinsically evil action is morally equivalent to the person performing the action themself.


On another front, Worthen is concerned the Quebec government has passed legislation requiring all publicly funded health care facilities to offer euthanasia as part of their health care services.

"This places Catholic facilities in a terrible dilemma," he said.

If nothing is done to address the issue, it will be impossible for Catholic doctors to practise medicine in Quebec or for Catholic facilities to operate there, he said.

"It is not too late to influence the outcome, but it requires everyone to take action now, without delay."