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Ontario bishops concerned about threat to conscience rights

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — The Ontario Catholic bishops have agreed to raise awareness of the threat to health professionals’ conscience rights in their dioceses.

The Assembly of the Catholic Bishops of Ontario (ACBO) president Bishop Ronald Fabbro of London said the bishops agreed at their annual plenary Oct. 3 - 5 to make support the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience a “top priority.”

“A lot of our people would be very upset to learn doctors were being forced to act against their conscience,” Fabbro said in an interview from London, Ont.

Three member organizations of the Coalition — the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies; the Christian Medical and Dental Association of Canada; and Canadian Physicians for Life — have launched a legal challenge of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s policy that requires effective referral for both abortion and euthanasia and would even require physicians to perform these actions under some circumstances (see related story, page 3). Doctors who refuse to comply on conscientious or religious grounds could lose their licenses.

“What we’re talking about here are short-term goals, efforts we’re making as bishops to support this Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience,” he said. “The particular goals are with respect to protection of conscience rights for health care providers — physicians and nurses and so on — and for our Catholic hospitals to continue to operate according their mission as Catholic hospitals without threats of defunding.”

The bishops also set a long-term goal to oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide in order to overturn the legislation, Fabbro said.

“A second goal would be to promote palliative care, a strategy for palliative care,” he said. “I think it is very much linked to the issue. If it is not available, there will be requests for assisted suicide. That is not what people are looking for if palliative care is more available to them.”

During the plenary, the bishops heard a presentation by the Coalition, led by Larry Worthen, a spokesperson for the Coalition and the executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada.

“This is an urgent matter and our people have to see the importance of this particular issue now,” Fabbro said. “I would say it was the top priority of our plenary assembly last week. The bishops really want their strong support to these efforts.”

The battle for conscience rights also has an ecumenical and interfaith dimension, he said. “There is a Jewish group that is going to be part of the Coalition,” he said.
Worthen and his team presented examples of how people can “engage in political action,” and “make their concerns known,” to their provincial legislators for “grassroots engagement” in defending conscience rights, the bishop said.

“They presented us with examples of bulletin inserts to make people aware of the issues, and to encourage them to make their views known to their MPPs,” Fabbro said. He noted the Coalition team emphasized the advantage of contacting MPPs electronically through its website because “if done electronically, it’s much easier for them to engage the people who are going to be concerned about this.”

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