In Canada, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) has approved a new policy that requires doctors to refer for abortions even if they oppose abortion on moral and religious grounds. In fact, doctors who refuse to comply with the new policy could face disciplinary action by their regulating body.
According to the Cambridge Times, the measure protects patients’ right to access care and at the same time ensures that doctors meet their legal obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code. The president of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Carol Leet, said that physicians who do not comply with the new policy could face repercussions ranging from a requirement to upgrade their education to revocation of their medical licenses, depending on the seriousness of the situation. She said, “There have been some complaints about access to care.”
Leet said that the old policy stipulated that physicians did not have to provide services that conflicted with their personal values and beliefs, but it was non-specific about whether they should make referrals to other doctors.
Currently, 16,000 people have opposed the new policy but that hasn’t changed the CPSO’s decision.
Additionally, earlier this year the CPSO said that doctors in Canada who refuse to cooperate with physician-assisted suicide could face disciplinary action as well. Bryan Salte, an associate registrar of the college said, “If a physician feels the directives are wrong, they will still, we would expect, they will still follow those directives, in spite of the fact they may not agree with them.”
He concluded, “Certainly with any physician we try to work with them to see if there is any mutually acceptable solution. But if there are physicians who engage in behavior which is regarded as unacceptable or unprofessional then that is a possible outcome.”
Unfortunately, the college doesn’t have a policy concerning assisted suicide but are circulating a draft policy on conscientious refusal. The draft says doctors can refuse to administer assisted suicide drugs if it violates their freedom of conscience; however, if they refuse, they must make a referral to another health care provider who will provide it. Some Canadian doctors find this problematic because it would mean they would still have to refer a patient to a doctor who would help them kill themselves.
Global News reports that Dr. Philip Fitzpatrick, a Saskatoon family doctor and ER physician, says assisted suicide flies in the face of a doctors’ commitment not to cause harm to patients. He said, “This is a bit of a red line because as physicians we’re not supposed to be partaking in anything that might harm our patients. Definitely for me participating in an assisted suicide would be harming my patient – even a referral for that would make me culpable for that.” He also said that he’s talked to a number of doctors who agree that the college’s draft policy is very troubling and a bad idea for physicians.