20 Apr 2021 Bill C-268: Protection of Freedom of Conscience Act
Since the legalization of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) in 2016, there has been little effort to protect the consciences of those who refuse to participate in providing MAiD. The recent euthanasia legislation has increased access to MAiD, and doctors will increasingly run into conscientious problems with patient requests for MAiD.
Currently, the province of Manitoba is the only province that specifically protects the conscience rights of physicians. Under Manitoba’s legislation, medical professionals can refuse to participate in MAiD if it violates their personal convictions. They cannot be required to provide MAiD and cannot suffer repercussions in their job as a result.
Without legislation, provincial regulatory bodies that oversee physicians have the power to require active participation in MAiD.
Without legislation, provincial regulatory bodies that oversee physicians have the power to require active participation in MAiD. For example, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario requires that medical professionals must provide an effective referral to patients who request MAiD, subject to disciplinary action if they refuse. Healthcare professionals throughout Canada need meaningful protection so that they can continue to practice medicine while following their conscientious convictions.
On February 18, 2021, MP Kelly Block tabled Bill C-268, the Protection of Freedom of Conscience Act. Bill C-268 would make it a criminal offense to intimidate a health care professional (medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist, etc.) to compel them to participate in providing MAiD. It would also protect medical professionals from being hired or fired based on their willingness to take part in providing MAiD, directly or indirectly.
Bill C-268 would make it a criminal offense to intimidate a health care professional to compel them to participate in providing MAiD.
Freedom of conscience is protected under section 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it is critical for a strong medical system. Health care professionals must be able to do their job based on their moral framework and convictions without fear of repercussions. Canada’s medical system must allow for conscientious objectors so that there can be a dialogue between patients and physicians about the best options for medical care. Patients should be able to go to a doctor who they can trust will do what is best for them, and medical professionals should be permitted to act in a way that is in accordance with their beliefs.
Bill C-268 is an important piece of legislation that would protect those who object to MAiD for reasons of conscience from being coerced to participate in killing their patients. We should make every effort to support this bill. Please email your MP and ask them to support Bill C-268.
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