Long Read for Kazingram Dialogue: Conscience Rights in Canada

Some time ago, I wrote a long piece for Kazingram Dialogue, an online magazine that promotes intelligent discourse, on the issue of conscience rights, religious freedom, and assisted suicide/assisted dying in Canada. The article was just recently published and is called, ‘Physician Assisted Dying and Protection of Conscience Rights in Canada’.

First of all, I want to thank Kazingram Dialogue for the opportunity to write for them as I appreciate any outlet for writing and conversation, and I am thankful for the shared interest in this difficult subject. I hope to continue writing for them in the future, in addition to posting the usual content on this blog.

Here is an excerpt of the article:

In Canada, one of the foundational provisions made under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the fundamental freedom of conscience and religion. An integral component of Canada’s national makeup is the commitment to tolerance and diversity. Perhaps by necessity, this tends to conflict with an absolutist ethical framework, especially when there is a degree of consensus that a particular action, like allowing suffering patients to die on their terms, for example, is a good one. As a result of dramatic shifts in public opinion coupled with bold legislative changes in health care, the medical landscape in this country has become so complex that it is no longer clear how, or if, freedom of conscience and religion can be totally preserved for everyone all the time. While I do not aim to completely and perfectly resolve the many questions pertaining to medically assistance in dying (MAID), I wish to examine some relatively recent legal developments in this conversation from the angle of ethics and morality.

Dr. Mark Wicclair summarizes the issue this way, “On the one hand, patients seek goods and services to meet their health care needs and interests. On the other hand, health care professionals want to maintain their moral integrity, and doing so can prompt them to refuse to provide a good or service that will satisfy a patient’s health needs and/or interests”1

The lack of alignment among Canadians in the conversation on the conscience rights of physicians who  object to morally questionable procedures, such as assisted dying or abortion, is primarily to do with the necessity and nature of physician complicity. We are now well past the honeymoon phase of the national move to legalize assisted suicide, taking place on June 17, 2016 when Bill C-14 was enacted, and yet the ethical matters of euthanasia and assisted dying and a so-called rational suicide is far from settled in the aging Canadian mind. Questions abound and one of the most critical problems society needs to resolve is what to do concerning physicians who object to the practice of assisting in a patient’s death. 

Does a patient’s supposed right to die obligate his or her physician to act in accordance with their request regardless of the physician’s independent judgment? Do conscience rights exist in a professional setting? Can personal ethics be divorced from medical practice? Can compromise be truly achieved? Does physician referral effectively mean ‘complicity’ in the act? Is physician complicity a necessary evil?

If you want to read the full article, please go to Kazingram.com, or just simply click the link here. I also recommend digging through the many articles on Kazingram Dialogue as it covers a wide range of topics, all very thought provoking, from a variety of perspectives.

Feel free to drop a comment below if you have questions. What are your thoughts on conscientious objection in health care?

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