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Uncertainty, confusion reign for physicians over assisted suicide

By Michael Swan
The Catholic Register

06/15/2016

TORONTO (CCN) — With no law in place to govern assisted suicide, physicians and vulnerable patients face uncertainty, confusion and more opinions than facts.

“It’s a matter of weeks before people (in health care) are going to have to choose between their conscience and their career,” said Deacon Larry Worthen, executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society.

Doctors have told Worthen that some hospitals have already put in place procedures and protocols for doctor-assisted death. Some hospitals will force objecting doctors to refer for assisted suicide, even though, said Worthen, “our physicians are just unable to refer” for reasons of conscience.

Worthen and the doctors he represents want Bill C-14 passed, but they also want the Senate to add specific conscience protections for objecting doctors and health care institutions.

“We’re pleased with what’s there, but we want to be more specific,” he said. “We want to protect facilities. We want to protect against the requirement to refer.”

Through the CanadiansForConscience.ca website, set up by an interfaith coalition of faith leaders and physicians, the Christian Medical and Dental Society is asking Canadians to contact senators and urge them to amend the assisted-dying legislation.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is calling for the bill to be defeated if it cannot be adequately amended.

“I recognize that conscience protection language has improved . . . but the most grievous sections of Bill C-14 were not amended,” Euthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director Alex Schadenberg wrote on his blog. “Bill C-14 continues to allow anyone to cause death by euthanasia or assisted suicide.”

In Schadenberg’s reading of the proposed law, “the bill only requires them (doctors and nurse practitioners) to ‘be of the opinion’ that the person meets all of the criteria of the law. This is the lowest possible standard.”

Worthen said lawmakers he has spoken to are sympathetic to the call for conscience protections.

“They feel that participation should be voluntary. We would like to see that in the actual legislation,” he said.

The Pontifical Academy for Life is concerned about Canada’s push for legalized, doctor-administered death.

“We share the concerns of the church in Canada, especially for the recent developments in legislation in your country,” wrote the academy’s co-ordinating secretary Rev. Scott Borgman in an email to The Catholic Register.

The Vatican office is in contact and collaborating with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Borgman said.

In Ontario, doctors are being advised to heed advice from their various professional colleges.

“Health care providers should consult their regulatory colleges about any rules, guidelines or practices regarding medical assistance in dying,” said a joint press release from Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins and Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur.

Guidelines issued by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario are bad news for Ontario doctors who don’t want to be involved in killing patients, said Catholic Health Association of Canada bioethicist Dr. Nuala Kenny.

Ontario’s medical college has informed doctors they have a duty to provide an “effective referral” to a consenting doctor. The college, however, does not regulate hospitals, long-term care homes or hospices. Their guidelines and regulations only apply to individual doctors.

“CPSO has been harsh on protection of conscience with its understanding of ‘effective referral,’ but the Manitoba college has been better,” wrote Kenny in an email. “Since conscience protection has been turfed to the provinces, we are not likely to have consistency. Protection of institutional conscience is far more unclear.”

A consistent national framework for legal assisted suicide is a minimum demand from the Canadian Medical Association, said CMA director of Ethics Cécile Bensimon.

Ontario will provide drugs for voluntary euthanasia at no cost. But provincial authorities warn the new situation is not anything goes.

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