July 13, 2015

Doctors should have the right to refuse to take part in treatments they consider morally objectionable, says Saskatchewan's College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The college will open another public consultation in coming weeks, following the approval in principle of a revised policy on conscientious objection.

The new policy will require physicians to "make arrangements" for their patients to access treatments that the physician finds morally objectionable.

Further, the policy requires physicians provide treatment when it "must be provided within a limited time to be effective."

In its discussion, the council acknowledged most physicians to whom the policy applies want the best outcomes for their patients and are not trying to obstruct patient access to care.


The policy identifies three scenarios in which a physician may wish to withdraw his or her services from a patient.

First, when a patient requires information about possible treatments; second, when a patient requests a specific service; third, when a patient requires a specific treatment in an emergency.

The council's discussion of the policy began with the second of these scenarios, considering the role of the physician when a patient requests a service to which the physician has a conscientious objection.

The council deliberately avoided requiring the physician to provide the patient with a formal referral, stating instead that the physician should "make an arrangement that will allow the patient to obtain access to the health service if the patient chooses."

However, it is not clear whether the current draft's wording of "making an arrangement" is the equivalent of making a referral.

The Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS) Canada, the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians' Societies, and Canadian Physicians for Life argued this in a brief to the Saskatchewan council.

The brief said the policy's requirement that physicians simply "make arrangements" with another doctor for information and provision of treatment is in fact a formal referral.

Giving a referral would effectively make a doctor with a conscientious objection complicit in a treatment to which the doctor objects, the groups argued.


"We need to have physicians who are free to bring their whole selves to their patients, including their compassion and their ethics," said Saskatoon Bishop Donald Bolen.

The CMDS and the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians' Societies filed an application March 24 asking the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to declare that portions of a similar policy passed in Ontario violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.