The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

Volume 18, Issue 2, Summer 2018

Carter Anne McGowan
Pages 255-268

Conscience Rights and “Effective Referral” in Ontario

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada decriminalized euthanasia. Soon after, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario enacted the Professional Obligations and Human Rights policy and the Medical Assistance in Dying policy. Neither these policies nor the Medical Assistance in Dying Act, the Ontario law permitting euthanasia, contains a conscientious objection clause. Instead, the policies require objecting doctors to provide an effective referral to a doctor who will euthanize the patient. Objecting physicians brought suit against the college. In a recent decision, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice held against the plaintiffs, finding the infringement of the effective referral policy on physicians’ rights to conscience and religious freedom to be appropriate when balanced against a patient’s right to equitable access to health care. Therefore, Catholic physicians in Ontario now must choose to violate either their religious beliefs or their professional obligations. It is imperative that these policies be struck down on appeal, superseded by an amendment, or revised by the college through the addition of a conscience clause.