Divisional Court Accepts Religious and Conscientious Infringement on Ontario Doctors

TORONTO, ON January 31, 2018 – The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) is gravely disappointed in the ruling released today by the Ontario Divisional Court in the case CMDS et al v. CPSO.

The application was brought by several religious physicians and groups to challenge the mandate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), that requires doctors who object to certain procedures on religious or conscientious grounds, such as assisted suicide, to provide nevertheless an “effective referral” to another physician or caregiver who would perform the service.

The court upheld the policy that requires life affirming physicians to act against their religion and conscience.

It is an alarming development which places Ontario doctors at the risk of professional complaints for refusing to make such referrals.

While finding that the CPSO policies were in breach of the constitutional right to freedom of religion (the court declined to make a ruling on freedom of conscience given its assessment), it found that the policy choice of the CPSO engaged a “reasonable limit” on the exercise of such freedoms.  Speaking on behalf of the three-member panel, Mr. Justice Wilton-Siegel asserted that the CPSO limit on such rights, while not trivial, did not create a substantial infringement, even if it meant forcing a physician to violate one’s conscience, to accommodate his or her practice choices, even to the extent of stepping aside from certain practice areas.

The CCRL has maintained that the CPSO’s insistence on obligating Ontario physicians to perform an “effective referral” for objectionable procedures does nothing to honour the Charter right of freedom of conscience and religion. Rather it is a breach of a physician’s rights and a serious incursion into the professional standing of a physician.

A proper balancing of the rights of physicians with the concept of patient autonomy must not result in the trumping of the rights of physicians in their medical practices.  Such rights extend not only to refusing to perform assisted suicide and euthanasia, but the right not to be obliged to refer to other practitioners who may be willing to provide such services. This clearly constitutes participation in wrong.

According to a recent statement from the John Paul II Academy for Human Life and the Family:

“Seeking to impose on a doctor the duty to perform abortions or euthanasia (or, alternatively, to leave the medical profession or a given hospital), or to impose on him the duty to refer a woman to an abortionist, is gravely sinful and a direct violation of his inalienable human dignity and freedom of conscience.”

“The same also applies to the case where a pro-life physician is claimed to be obliged to refer a patient (who requests physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia) to a colleague who would perform such acts.  Not only is the pro-life physician not obliged to refer a patient to a colleague who would perform intrinsically wrong acts, he is also absolutely morally forbidden to do so,” they continue.

Speaking to the fallacy of the imposition of personal autonomy on others, “One can hardly imagine a worse perversion of moral truth and natural right than the idea that a person has a right to demand that other persons commit the crime to murder him. Nobody has any right whatsoever to demand from society to assist him to commit a crime against himself, or to oblige others to commit the crime of murdering him.”

“Quite the contrary, the others and the State, in virtue of their true moral autonomy, a moral autonomy subjected to the truth, have the absolute moral duty to reject such a request.”

The CCRL asserted in our legal argument, and relying upon previous authorities, that in a free and democratic society, the state should respect choices made by individuals and, to the greatest extent possible, will avoid subordinating these choices to any one conception of the good life.

Demanding that someone participate in perceived wrongdoing demands the submission of intellect, will and conscience, reducing the person to the status of a thing, to a tool to be used by others, to servitude that cannot be reconciled with principles of equality. It is an assault on human dignity that deprives physicians of their essential humanity.

The court missed an opportunity to require the CPSO to create a policy that would recognize that doctors have different views of what proper accompaniment of vulnerable patients entails.  Many patients not only share the views of the appellants, but also desire to be served by physicians who hold such views. Such doctors care deeply about their patients, and do not wish to be engaged in “referring” patients to their unnatural deaths.

The court instead accepted the arguments of the CPSO and has given its approval to a policy that serves to infringe upon the rights of such physicians.  Such an infringement is by no means insubstantial.

An appeal is required.


About the CCRL

Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. The CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization with a large nationwide membership base. The CCRL is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.

For further information:

Christian Domenic Elia, PhD
CCRL Executive Director
416-466-8244
@CCRLtweets