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Assisted Suicide: CLF, EFC and ACBO Form Coalition in Physicians' Conscience Case

The Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF), The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), and the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario (ACBO) have filed a joint factum with the Ontario Divisional Court in the physicians' conscience case: Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS) v. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO).
A doctor holds the hand of a patient in a hospital in Peoria, Illinois. Reuters/Jim Young

The Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF), The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), and the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario (ACBO) have filed a joint factum with the Ontario Divisional Court in the physicians' conscience case: Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS) v. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO). 

The CPSO has adopted (1) a Human Rights Policy mandating effective referrals and obligatory emergency care even if it conflicts with conscience or religious beliefs; and (2) a Medical Assistance in Dying Policy that specifically requires effective referrals for euthanasia and assisted suicide. The "effective referral" requirement imposed by the CPSO mandates referral for all procedures and pharmaceuticals including euthanasia, assisted suicide and abortion, despite any conscientious or religious objection the physician may have.

The joint interveners support the CMDS in its position that, among other things, these policies violate religious freedom, freedom of conscience and equality, are not in the public interest, limit patient choice and undermine the principle of state neutrality. Derek Ross, CLF's Executive Director & General Counsel (co-counsel to the joint interveners along with CLF Legal Counsel Deina Warren), explains:

Forcing physicians to participate in the purposeful and premature ending of a patient's life contrary to their convictions is truly unconscionable. The Supreme Court's decision in Carter allows room for conscientious objectors in the practice of medicine, and their freedoms must be robustly protected. In the same way, patients should be free to seek health care from professionals whose ethical framework reflects their own convictions, including those related to the value of human life. It is difficult to comprehend how it could possibly be in the 'public interest' to expect patients to receive health care from professionals who have been required by their regulatory body to abandon their core ethical convictions.

The interveners' joint factum points to a comprehensive definition of religious freedom that informs the very understanding of human life, its beginning and end, the inherent value and dignity of each person and the moral considerations involved in ending another's life. Religion cannot be compartmentalized or restricted to the performance of sacred rituals but includes outward expression and impacts all aspects of a believer's life. Bishop Ronald Fabbro, President of the ACBO and Bishop of London, explains:

For Christians, adherence to Biblical teaching is not an optional exercise but a necessary, inescapable requirement of their faith. If one holds sincere religious beliefs which inform one's view about human nature, morality and eternity, one is not free to temporarily disregard or suspend those beliefs in order to act contrary to them. The state cannot demand physicians or other healthcare professionals set aside the moral framework that guides their conduct, just as it cannot coerce believers to renounce their faith.

The joint submission explains that physicians' Charter rights to religious belief, conscience and equality are not erased simply because they practice in a regulated profession. These rights exist to protect physicians against the power of the state, in this case the CPSO. Protecting physicians' Charterrights allows patients to choose medical professionals whose ethical framework aligns with their own, and enhances patients' interests by protecting physicians' professional judgment, which is an inseparable combination of ethical and clinical assessments.

The submission also explains that there is no competing patient Charter right to health care, let alone euthanasia or assisted suicide. Decriminalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide does not create a "right to euthanasia or assisted suicide".  Even if such a right existed, there is nothing to demonstrate that protecting conscience inhibits access.

The policies violate physicians' equality rights and violate the principle of state neutrality, which means welcoming and accepting religious individuals in the public sphere. The Charter ought to protect diversity, not enforce conformity. Bruce Clemenger, EFC President explains:  

Physicians, like all Canadians, ought not to be excluded from the public sphere or their vocation because of their religious beliefs and practices. The state in a religiously diverse and secular society has the obligation to welcome and accept religious individuals in the public sphere. It must respect religious differences, not seek to extinguish them. Requiring individuals to renounce, deny or hide their beliefs is not state neutrality, but coerced conformity. This is contrary to the principles we value in a free and democratic society.

The CLF-EFC-ACBO factum can be read in full here.

The joint interveners will present oral arguments before the court during the three-day hearing, which is scheduled for June 13-15, 2017. 

Tags : The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, The Christian Legal Fellowship, Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, assisted suicide, euthanasia, Physician-assisted suicide