No doctor conscience rights in assisted dying bill

By MPP Toby Barrett

For weeks, Ontario has been wrestling with Bill 84, the Medical Assistance in Dying Act.

We have seen considerable debate at Queen’s Park to ensure timely access to medical assistance in dying, while at the same time, trying to ensure the conscience rights of our health care professionals are respected. Much of my work on this bill has been alongside my colleague and Opposition Health Critic Jeff Yurek on committee hearings.

According to committee testimony from Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins, medical assistance in dying is a harmless-sounding expression to cover the grim reality of assisted suicide.

As he testified, “We need to offer love and medical assistance to those who are dying, but that is utterly different from administering an injection which is designed to kill them. When a person is in pain, the solution is to kill the pain, not to kill the patient.”

Bill 84 has a clause to ensure protection for doctors who participate in assisted suicide. As Opposition, we introduced amendments to provide protection for those who ask not to participate in the act – amendments defeated by the government.

After committee hearings, I explained to the House, during debate; that we heard from Hagersville’s Dr. Philip Drijber, who is unable to participate in euthanasia for a number of reasons of conscience and ethics, religious conviction and the Hippocratic Oath.

Dr. Drijber uses the example of abortion care services. If someone comes in and says they are pregnant, he sits down with them to explain their options. “You could have this baby, you could adopt this baby or you could terminate this baby. That is your choice. If you want me to follow you through…I’m here for you. If you want to terminate this baby, there is a website. There’s a number of 800 numbers. That’s informed consent, but I’m not participating.”  As he indicated, if a patient is capable of attending his office they are capable of finding various resources or services for an abortion.

Dr. Drijber concluded.  “Whether one is the hit man or calls the hit man—the effective referral—both are equally responsible. Intent and assisting are equal in the common law, and the courts have always held so. An effective referral is participation, and that’s what makes it morally repugnant to health care providers of conscience.”

According to London Catholic Bishop Ronald Fabbro, providing an effective referral would be immoral because it is cooperating in the act of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.  “It is alarming to hear good doctors say that they would have to leave the practice of medicine in Ontario if they were forced to act against their conscience. It’s unacceptable to have these doctors disciplined or risk losing their professional standing for conducting their work according to their most deeply-held ethical or religious convictions.”

As Dr. Drijber said, “To me personally, it means I will have to stop doing family practice. My passion and life’s work has been family medicine. I am greatly saddened to lose the opportunity to serve the people of my practice.

And that is a price Hagersville-area residents don’t want to pay. For this reason, along with the government turning down Opposition amendments which would have protected doctor’s conscience rights, I will be voting against the bill.