Why are Canada’s best healthcare providers targeted for being pro-life?

By Jonathon Van Maren

I just received a very disappointing e-mail from my friend Faye Sonier, the executive director of Canadian Physicians for Life. The CPL had been engaged in legal proceedings to challenge the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s refusal to recognize the conscience rights of medical professionals. As they explained here:

Current CPSO policies (see below) require physicians to refer patients for controversial procedures, like assisted suicide and abortion, even though there are ways for patients to access the procedures.

The College can discipline physicians who are unable to refer for reasons of conscience, ethics, or religious belief because they cannot participate in taking a human life.

For these reasons, we joined two other physician organizations and five brave physicians in challenging the CPSO in two separate legal proceedings. The first proceeding was commenced in 2015. The second followed shortly after.

There are other ways to give patients this option without placing health care practitioners in an impossible dilemma. Doctors and other health professionals who have dedicated their lives to healing people cannot be forced to participate in ending the same patient’s life. For many caregivers in our society, medical assistance in dying (MAiD) is a gruesome and highly disturbing process. To be forced to be part of it is inhumane. No other jurisdiction in the world that has legalized euthanasia has required referral.

For many doctors and nurses this is a very serious matter. Some have already retired early, others have moved to another province and some are talking about retraining or altering their practice.

Today, there was a discouraging setback. From Faye’s email:

At noon today, the Ontario Divisional Court released its decision in our challenge to the College of Physicians and Surgeon of Ontario’s conscience rights policies. You may download the decision here

In short, the court found the religious freedom rights of Ontario doctors are significantly violated by the CPSO’s policies, but that those violations can be justified to ensure patient access to healthcare. The “salutary effects” of patient access outweigh the “deleterious effects” which are the affirmed harms experienced by our doctors, who feel that they cannot participate in these procedures, via referral or otherwise.

We are now looking at the decision more closely and are in the early stages of discussing our options, such as an appeal of this decision. No decision has been made yet. We are issuing a joint press release with the CMDS and the CFCPS shortly. It will be posted on this page.

We are very disappointed with this ruling. We are the only jurisdiction in the world which requires effective referral in such an aggressive manner. 

Media Statement from Canadian Physicians for Life President Dr. Ryan Wilson:

“This is a disappointing decision and puts our doctors – doctors who entered the field of medicine to provide quality, compassionate, and patient-centered care – in an impossible position. They don’t believe ending a patient’s life is medicine, and they don’t believe they can offer hope and healing in one room while assisting in killing a patient in another. Ultimately it is patient care that suffers, as our doctors will retire early, relocate, or change fields. For many, their religious and conscience rights are being violated and they won’t be able to practice medicine in Ontario. This is a significant loss for the entire health care system in the province and will have a direct impact on patient care.” 

I have to say, I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around the Canadian conscience rights conundrum yet. As Faye points out, we are the only jurisdiction that is having this debate. Only in Canada is there the insistence that patients not only have the right to kill themselves with medical assistance, but have the right to kill the consciences of doctors who refuse to support the idea that lethal injections are healthcare, too.

Last fall, I spoke at the Physicians for Life Conference with my colleague Blaise Alleyne on how to discuss assisted suicide (which is the title of our book on the topic), and one thing that struck me throughout the weekend, over and over again, is how earnest and loving men and women were being forced to consult with lawyers, attend presentations explaining their legal options to them when they were confronted with demands to violate their consciences, and to simply find other likeminded people to decompress with—all because they simply wanted to provide their patients with the best care they were capable of.

For suicide activists and abortion extremists, however, that’s not good enough. If they are not willing to implicate themselves in the process of ending a human being’s life, then they must be ostracized, punished, or hounded from the medical profession. This is not about patient care. No other country is having this debate. This is about the ideological extremism of a few who are willing to deny patients the much-needed care that these loving medical professionals want to provide if those men and women refuse to join them in dispatching patients to the beyond.

One conversation stuck out for me at that conference. I was chatting with two midwifery students, two of the loveliest girls you could hope to meet—the idea of delivering babies quite literally made them smile from ear-to-ear. But in the current ideological climate, the discovery of other students that these two young women were pro-life resulted in instant ostracization. “It’s just so hard to go to class when almost everyone hates you,” the young, female student told me. Her friend, standing beside her, agreed. “Yeah. We just want to deliver babies and love the moms. But as soon as someone found out we were pro-life, everything changed.”

There is something ugly and insidious about a climate so hostile to young men and women who simply want to nurture and save lives. There is something profoundly broken about our medical system when healthcare providers are targeted for refusing to implicate themselves in the process of killing their own patients. And there is something sick about a society that punishes young women for refusing to believe that dismembering and removing pre-born children from the womb is healthcare.


For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.

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