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Policy violates the consciences of physicians

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski


SASKATOON — Speakers at a diocesan Congress Day Feb. 28 in Saskatoon urged participants to respond to a draft policy of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (CPSS) that could require doctors to refer for, or in some cases provide, services to which they are morally opposed, such as abortion or assisted suicide.

Entitled Policy — Conscientious Refusal, the draft policy addresses “the College’s expectations where a physician has an ethical objection to providing a service which is requested or being considered by a patient.”

Although principles cited in the policy state that a physician’s freedom of conscience should be respected, in Section 5.3, the policy would require physicians to make a referral for services even if those services violate the doctor’s conscience.

Furthermore, in cases where a referral is not possible without “causing a delay that would jeopardize the patient’s health or well-being,” physicians would be required to provide the service under Section 5.4 of the policy, which states: “physicians must provide the patient with all health services that are legally permissible and publicly funded and that are consented to by the patient or, in the case of an incompetent patient, by the patient’s substitute decision-maker. This obligation holds even in circumstances where the provision of health services conflicts with physicians’ deeply held and considered moral or religious beliefs.”

In a recent letter to the CPSS about the proposed policy, Bishop Don Bolen noted: “There is no human right in Canada to demand or receive particular services from a specific physician, and referrals are as morally problematic as doing the procedure itself.”

The policy would discriminate against any physician striving to abide by his or her conscience, said the bishop. “Doctors who on moral grounds choose not to participate in such referrals or procedures (for example, abortion or assisted suicide) will be vulnerable to punishment from the regulator, even though their fundamental freedom of conscience and religion is guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

The bishop urged the CPSS to provide for both the rights of the patient and the physician by calling for clear communication of the services that a doctor will or will not provide.

“A physician’s primary concern is for the patient’s health. Even when the physician is not able to participate in the implementation of a patient’s ultimate decision, the professional relationship between them can be maintained and may even be enhanced if physicians in these circumstances clearly communicate the services they will or will not provide from the beginning of the doctor-patient relationship,” Bolen said.

“Physicians would simply request that their rights be respected, just as they respect the rights and feelings of their patients. In medical ethics this doctor-patient relationship is paramount, and the values of dialogue and consent housed within it need to be preserved, so as not to stifle the choices of either party,” said the bishop.

To provide feedback about the issue, sample letters have been published on the diocesan website at or those concerned about the policy can respond to the CPSS on their website at:

Other matters discussed at the diocesan Congress Day in the Deaneries held at St. Patrick Parish in Saskatoon were euthanasia and assisted suicide, the Synod on the Family, and the Year of Consecrated Life.

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