Ont. doctors go to court to defend their consciences

Deacon Larry Worthen

Deacon Larry Worthen

April 6, 2015
MICHAEL SWAN
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

After seven months of refusing to meet face-to-face with the affected doctors, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario will now face them in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

The Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, supported by the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians' Societies, has filed an application to the court seeking a permanent injunction against the college's new human rights policy.

That policy would force doctors to refer for abortion, contraception and legal euthanasia even if doing so violates their sincerely held religious beliefs and their conscience.

The two medical associations are asking the court to find that the CPSO's new policy violates their rights to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They also claim the "effective referral" policy violates their right to "equal treatment and benefit under the law" by denying doctors rights normally granted to other citizens.

In a release, the College of Physicians and Surgeons said it will "vigorously defend the recently approved policy."

The college did not respond to queries from The Catholic Register.

BAD MEDICINE

Requiring doctors to act against their conscience is bad medicine for both patients and the doctors, said Christian Medical and Dental Association president Dr. Diane Haak.

Doctors caught in this tension, facing disciplinary action for doing what their conscience dictates, will burn out and may leave either the province or the practice of medicine, she said.

Dr. Bryan Dias of the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians' Societies said his group and its lawyer have sought a meeting with the College of Physicians and Surgeons since last July and never received a response.

"We reached out, as did a lot of our members," Dias said. "Again we did not have a response. To be quite frank, if we had the opportunity to have a dialogue, we would not have this problem."

The two medical associations are raising funds among their members to meet an expected $150,000 legal bill.

"That's money I would rather send to our project in South Sudan," said CMDS executive director Deacon Larry Worthen.

Though 90 per cent of CMDS's 1,687 members are Evangelical Christian doctors, Worthen is a Catholic lawyer in Dartmouth, N.S.

The Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians' Societies represents Catholic guilds and societies in 11 cities, comprising about 150 members.

RESOLUTION WAS POSSIBLE

Worthen claims the two sides could have easily worked out a human rights policy that respected the conscience rights of doctors and lined up with the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Woodstock emergency room and palliative care Dr. Michelle Korvemaker said she's always willing to have a full, frank and respectful dialogue with patients about all their options, including abortion.

One of five doctors named in the CMDS application to the court, Korvemaker is concerned that the new policy may require her to refer for physician-assisted death now that the Supreme Court has struck down criminal code provisions against it.

As a palliative care physician himself, Dias has the same concern. "If I have to refer somebody for euthanasia, then I cannot practise medicine in Ontario," he said.