Bill Allowing Ontario Doctors to Reject Assisted Suicide Fails

by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  May 19, 2017   

Ontario doctor: "Making a referral [for assisted suicide] is being complicit in the act of killing a patient"

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TORONTO ( - A bill, allowing Ontario's doctors to opt out of assisted suicide, has failed to pass.

On Thursday, Ontario's legislative assembly voted down Bill 129, which would've shielded doctors from having to refer suicidal patients to doctors, who would help kill them.

Writing what's called an "effective referral" for a patient to receive doctor-assisted suicide is seen by many physicians in Ontario as writing a patient's death warrant. One such doctor commented, "For many people, making a referral is being complicit in the act of killing a patient." Another doctor remarked, "I can't say I'm opposed to robbing a bank and then give a would-be thief the combination to the locks."

Bill 129 would have protected doctors from prosecution when they refused to be complicit in killing patients. The bill reads, "A member shall not be subject to (liability or disciplinary penalty) for refusing to participate, directly or indirectly, in medical assistance in dying."

Jeff Yurek, a member of the legislature who introduced the bill, wrote, "It is disappointing that every single member in the Wynne Liberal government has chosen to yet again ignore the need to protect the conscience rights of health care providers in Ontario." Wynne is a reference to Kathleen Wynne, Ontario's openly homosexual premier.

Many of the province's doctors and nurses feel they must now choose between violating their conscience when asked to write an "effective referral" or discontinue offering palliative care to patients altogether. Some two dozen physicians, nurses and pharmacists took these concerns before legislators Thursday but to no avail.

One of those who spoke up Thursday, Dr. Kulvinder Gill attested, that many physicians "don’t want to make a referral that would result in the death of a patient." He said a patient's access to receive assistance in dying "must not depend on a physician having a role" in the act. Forcing medical practitioners to write effective referrals for suicide, he said, would strip them of their conscience rights that were guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

For many people, making a referral is being complicit in the act of killing a patient.

Ontario is the only province in Canada that doesn't allow physicians to opt out of the referral process. Other provinces have set up designated phone lines for patients seeking doctors, who would assist them in committing suicide. Doctors in Ontario want the legislature to establish a similar system that would eliminate doctors and palliative care workers from the referral process.

Another doctor who refuses to kill is Dr. Jane Dobson, who says she can't refer patients to doctors who will assist her patients in committing suicide. "There are palliative-care providers who will be forced to leave (the profession) because of their conscience," said Dobson.

Concerned Ontario Doctors, a group of healthcare workers battling the measure, said Thursday they would continue to fight. They've been assisted in their efforts by the archdiocese of Toronto, which started the Call for Conscience Campaign in February.

The archdioce invited Cdl. Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to speak at the cathedral in Toronto on Monday. The cardinal said Canadians must now focus on protecting the conscience rights of doctors, who refuse to kill their patients. He added, "No one who trains and takes an oath to care for the sick should be pressed into ending the lives of the very people that they have promised to serve."

"Refusal to engage in euthanasia represents basic fidelity to the very medical art that the physician professes," he continued. "To compel a doctor to participate in any manner in euthanasia is to force him to cease being a doctor and to betray the very profession to which he has given his life. ... Any law that forces a physician to act against what he knows to be the most basic good of the patient — the preservation of his very life — either directly or indirectly, is unjust."


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