Michele Boulva

Michele Boulva

September 14, 2015

Euthanasia opponents expressed dismay over an Aug. 25 vote to deny physicians' conscience rights at the Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) annual general meeting in Halifax.

"Conscientious objection was a contentious issue, with 79 per cent of delegates voting against a motion to support conscientious objectors who refuse to refer patients for medical aid in dying," said the CMA in an Aug. 26 news release.

"What we expect from physicians, at a minimum, is that they provide further information to patients on all the options including the spectrum of end-of-life care and . . . how to access those services," Dr. Jeff Blackmer, CMA vice president of medical professionalism, said Aug. 26, according to the release.

Michele Boulva, director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), said she is disturbed "a majority of Canadian physicians disrespect conscience to this point.

"What about patients' right to consult a physician who absolutely refuses to kill or send a patient to be killed by a colleague? How can we now trust any physician?"

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said, "Physicians' conscience rights are essential if there is going to be any ability in the law to protect people who are very vulnerable."

If physicians are forced to refer vulnerable people who have treatable depression, those people would lose what protection they have from doctor-assisted death, he said.

A doctor should be able to say, not only "I won't do it," but also "I will protect you," said Schadenberg.

In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, but doctors have conscience rights, there's a case of a patient with ALS, who requested lethal drugs from his doctor, Schadenberg said.

The doctor told him, "No, I will not provide you with lethal drugs, but I will make sure you are never abandoned. When you need help, I will be there and make sure you are cared for."

The man decided to continuing living, he said.


In another case, a woman named Jeannette Hall asked her physician for assisted suicide after she received a cancer diagnosis.

Schadenberg said her doctor said she was depressed by her diagnosis and urged her to seek treatment for the cancer instead. The cancer went into remission and "Jeannette Hall is happy to be alive today."

At the CMA annual meeting, the body released results of an online consultation of 1,407 doctors that showed 63 per cent said they would refuse to take part "medical aid in dying."

Twenty-nine per cent said they would consider taking part upon request. And 19 per cent said they "would be willing to help end the life of a patient whose suffering was psychological, not physical."