Ontario physicians could be stripped of their right to exercise religious or moral conscience if a new set of guidelines is accepted by their regulating body next month, critics say.
Doctors across Canada are now allowed to opt out of such things as prescribing birth control or morning-after pills or doing abortions when it goes against their conscience. Physicians are also allowed to refuse to do referrals in such cases.
But a new draft proposal from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario could change that for doctors in the province.
“I’m really concerned with the new principle that the college is promulgating and that is that doctors do not have the right to be guided in the conduct of the practice by their conscience,” said Joseph Ben-Ami, president of the Centre for Policy Studies, an Ottawa-based think tank. “That’s a sweeping broad principle to establish — and once you’ve established it the field is wide open for further changes.”
For example, he said a doctor might refuse to help a same-sex couple to use reproductive technology to have a child.
“There are a lot of doctors who feel uncomfortable with this and think it’s detrimental to the child’s welfare down the road. The way were reading this draft document is a doctor could be hit with a misconduct” if the new rules are adopted.
Some of the provisions included in the draft document are:
â€¢ [A] physician’s responsibility is to place the needs of the patient first, [so] there will be times when it may be necessary for physicians to set aside their personal beliefs in order to ensure that patients or potential patients are provided with the medical services the require.”
â€¢ “Physicians should be aware that decisions to restrict medical services offered … or to end physician-patient relationships that are based on moral or religious belief may contravene the Code and/or constitute professional misconduct.”