EFC work on conscience protection

23 March 2021
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The need for conscience protection is becoming even more urgent. The government is making sweeping changes to medical assistance in dying (MAID) this year. This issue has been on the forefront of the EFC’s efforts in Ottawa in 2020 and early this year. Bill C-7 is expanding euthanasia to people who are not dying but who live with disabilities and even to people who have mental illness alone. The next parliamentary conversations on this topic will be whether mature minors should be eligible for euthanasia.

No one should be compelled to help bring about the death of another person against their deeply held beliefs. Conscience protection is essential and that's why the EFC is working hard to see this need is addressed.

Even medical staff who don’t object to all euthanasia may feel they cannot end the life of a patient who still has decades to live, or whose request is motivated by despair over inadequate living conditions or lack of support. News reports tell of Canadians with disabilities who are considering hastened death because of their financial needs.

Doctors told the Senate committee studying Bill C-7 this winter why they couldn’t participate in ending the life of a patient. Dr. Sephora Tang explained that her job as a psychiatrist is to help her patients hold on when they are despairing.

“My patients need to see that I remain firm in giving them hope, that I’m not going to give up on them even if, in a moment of desperation, they want to end their lives,” said Tang. “They need to come to me and be guaranteed that I’m not going to collude in their suicidal urges and their hopelessness, because my job as a psychiatrist is to give them hope when they have lost all hope.”

Tang also described the pressure on doctors to participate, “Right now in Ontario, if a patient were to request medical assistance in dying, the College [of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario] expects me to make a mandatory referral to somebody who would be able to provide that service…. If I do not comply with that that College requirement, I could be sanctioned for that. That could include the removal of my licence as the most severe penalty.”

“It’s very hard to prevent suicide when you’re asked to facilitate it,” she said.

The Senate voted against adding clear, specific conscience protection to Bill C-7 and instead voted to expand MAID to allow euthanasia for Canadians with mental illness alone. As MAID expands, it becomes even more critical to establish strong, clear conscience protection. The EFC has been interacting with the government on this issue at every opportunity.

We also recognize the implications of a lack of conscience protection for all Canadians. Consider a student applying to medical school if the entrance exam screens out pro-life students, or a paramedic required to be present when a doctor is ending the life of a patient at their home.

Compelling doctors and others to participate in MAID creates a poisoned environment that reduces the quality of care available to patients. Physicians, including palliative care physicians, are feeling intense pressure to participate in euthanasia against their conscience or deeply held beliefs.

Over 1,300 physicians have signed a declaration stating that they do not want to end the lives of the patients under their care. Thousands of Canadians have heeded the call of the EFC and the other organizations active on this issue to interact with their MPs and Senators.

We can maintain both high-quality patient care and protection for the deeply held beliefs of medical professionals in Canada. The EFC and our partners in this issue are speaking with and for that group of highly dedicated health care workers. The EFC is also a member of the Coalition for Healthcare and Conscience, and some of our work on this issue has been under that umbrella, promoting conscience protection across Canada.

What you can do

Also in this issue: Cultivating faith in families (Family Faith Formation Study); Sacred Seeds update (Indigenous-Settler Relations Working Group); Updating you on Canada’s most immediate issues; Message from the President, Bruce J. Clemenger; Heart and hands: Insights from the work of EFC clerical services finance assistant Carmen Lee; Ambassadors on Zoom; Warm words from donors.