By Paul Schratz

(BC Catholic, June 4, 2007)

U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower once observed that in free countries, “the agent may never become the master.” If human rights and freedoms are to flourish, he said, “government must operate with its powers sharply defined and limited by the governed.”

Presumably that would apply to the Canadian Medical Association as well, which, as an agent for Canada’s physicians, is now under pressure to remove doctors’ freedom of conscience on abortion.
How often have we seen this type of coercion before:

• Homosexual “rights,” for instance, quickly evolve into an obligation for others, in schools, employment, and even in the home.
• Euthanasia, where it has become a right, turns into societal and economic pressure on patients and doctors to go along with it.
• Pharmacists who object to dispensing pills that cause death are constantly struggling not to be compelled to comply with patients’ wishes.

Now Canada’s doctors are being pressured to put the interests of women who want abortions ahead of their own religious and moral convictions.
The furor began about a year ago when the Canadian Medical Association Journal published a guest editorial from two lawyers. They criticized pro-life doctors who refuse to refer women to abortionists, accusing them of “malpractice,” a word guaranteed to make many doctors sit up and think twice about their position.

The editorial generated a barrage of letters on the topic, until the April 24, 2007, issue of the magazine, in which the CMA’s director of ethics made clear what the CMA’s position is: Doctors are under no obligation either to perform an abortion or to refer patients to an abortionist.

Now the National Abortion Federation, a U.S. lobby group, is pressuring the CMA to change its policy and remove the freedom of doctors to follow their religious and moral beliefs. In short, they would be required to refer to abortionists.

Dr. Colin McMillan, the president of the CMA, has responded to the abortion federation, saying the CMA policy on “induced abortion does not violate our Code of Ethics … nor does it treat women unfairly or impede their access to critical health care,” (which may be the first time ending a baby’s life has been termed “critical health care”).

Canadian Physicians for Life also wants none of the abortion lobbyists’ objectives. Considering what’s likely coming down the road with respect to reproductive technologies and euthanasia, now is certainly not the time to weaken conscience protection for health care workers, says Dr. Will Johnston, a Vancouver family physician and president of the Canadian Physicians for Life.

Far from being content with the present policy, Physicians for Life wants the CMA to actually strengthen protections for doctors who don’t want to be implicated in any way with abortion.

So all’s well that ends well? Not necessarily. Dr. Jeff Blackmer, the CMA’s ethics officer, told the National Post that the CMA’s policy could be re-evaluated if there was a groundswell from the membership one way or another, a legislative review of the issue by government, or a significant decrease in abortion access. That should prove disconcerting to pro-life doctors and Canadians who want a doctor who isn’t involved in abortion.

So here we have a U.S.-based abortion lobby organization trying to further liberalize Canada’s abortion lawlessness. Canada’s medical body deserves to hear from Canadians, who every poll shows are opposed to unrestricted abortion on demand. Conscience protection is too important an issue, especially on an issue as significant as abortion.

Long before Eisenhower commented on rights and freedoms, Pope Leo XIII noted that “man precedes the State.” Presumably he precedes the Canadian Medical Association too.

Following is contact information on this issue:
• Dr. Jeff Blackmer, CMA Executive Director, Office of Ethics,
• Dr. Colin McMillan, CMA President
• Dr. Dr. Brian Day, CMA President-Elect
• Dr. Paul Hebert, Editor-in-Chief, Canadian Medical Association Journal,
Physicians for Life:
© The B.C. Catholic, June 4, 2007

The League urges its members to make their voice heard on this fundamental freedom of conscience issue.