A petition demanding conscience rights for doctors who oppose assisted suicide is the first move in a multi-pronged strategy to persuade Ontario’s new government to enshrine such rights in law.
By the end of July, more than 5,600 signatures had been gathered on an online petition launched earlier in the month by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC). It is aimed at Christine Elliot, Ontario’s new Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, and Premier Doug Ford. Its goal is 10,000 signatures.
The coalition is also asking supporters to join a letter-writing and phone campaign to have Ford’s Conservative government enshrine in legislation conscience rights for Ontario health professionals.
Since euthanasia was made legal in June 2017, Ontario doctors have been required to either provide the service or give patients an “effective referral” to a doctor who does. The petition asks the government to pass legislation protecting conscience rights of health care professionals who object to any type of participation in so-called Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD).
“Doing this online petition is just a simple thing, but phoning and sending letters is far more effective,” said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. “Our hope is that they’ll get the message that this is an issue that we expect them to get done.”
Ford made protecting doctors’ conscience rights part of his election platform, and Schadenberg is mildly surprised that it wasn’t on the agenda when Ford convened the legislature in mid-July shortly after being sworn in June 29.
“A little reminder might be all it takes,” said Schadenberg. “We’re not here to make an enemy of the new government. We’re here to say this is a necessity.”
Since being legalized, more than 3,700 Canadians have died via euthanasia, according to Statistics Canada.
Meantime, the Christian Medical and Dental Society is proceeding with an appeal of a court ruling in favour of a policy of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario that requires doctors who oppose euthanasia to give patients an effective referral. The court agreed the policy violates doctors’ Charter rights, but ultimately ruled the infringement was outweighed by a patient’s right to access a legal medical service. Written arguments were filed in the Ontario Court of Appeal on July 30.
The court case, however, would be moot if the Ontario government passes legislation similar to a law in Manitoba which says health care workers cannot be forced to go against religious or ethical beliefs.
“We’re not saying come up with anything new, just change the odd word from the Manitoba bill and you have a bill for Ontario,” said Schadenberg.
A ministry spokesperson did not respond by deadline to The Catholic Register’s request for comment
Schadenberg believes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is on his side.
“Conscience rights are absolutely something that must be upheld and it’s crazy that we’re even having this conversation,” he said. “The Charter speaks for itself. Everyone has fundamental freedoms. And (at the top) is freedom of conscience and religion.
“We’re not recreating the wheel here. Manitoba did it. Ontario must do it too.”