TORONTO, Aug. 18, 2008 – The Catholic Civil Rights League recently called on the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to ensure freedom of religion and freedom of conscience for physicians in the application of changes to the application of Ontario’s Human Rights Code. The statement relates to a draft document being circulated by the college to inform doctors of potential implications of these changes, which will see complaints of discrimination filed directly with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. 

In a letter to the college Aug. 15, the League expressed concern over items in the draft policy relating to religious and conscientious freedom, noting that some  provisions would appear to restrict physicians’ ability to decline to participate in treatments or referrals that violate their consciences. The League also asked that the deadline for feedback (originally Aug. 15) be extended, a request the college agreed to almost immediately. The new deadline is Sept. 12, 2008.

Portions of the League’s letter follow: “As the draft document states, religious and conscientious beliefs are an integral part of the person. (Therefore) the statement below is somewhat problematic:
Personal beliefs and values and cultural and religious practices are central to the lives of physicians and their patients. However, as a physician’s responsibility is to place the needs of the patient first, there will be times when it may be necessary for physicians to set aside their personal beliefs in order to ensure that patients or potential patients are provided with the medical treatment and services they require.

“Canada has an established custom of accommodating sincerely held religious and conscientious convictions as much as possible. The expectation that physicians must set aside their beliefs with regard to treatments or referrals that violate their conscience is unreasonable, and at odds with the CMA’s Joint Statement on Preventing and Resolving Ethical Conflicts Involving Health Care Providers and Persons Receiving Care (1998). 

“With two private member’s bills favouring euthanasia put before Parliament in the past five years, it’s certainly not inconceivable that Canada will have a liberalized law at some future date, which could raise ethical dilemmas even more acute than those we have today. I hope that the review process is extended, and allows the profession to formulate guidelines that offer the best possible protection for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience for all concerned.

* Proposed policy could severely limit freedom of Ontario physicians to practice according to conscience, doctors say (Statement from Physicians for Life)
* Changes to Ontario’s Human Rights Commission take effect (Press release from the commission)

About CCRL
Catholic Civil Rights League ( 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. CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization and has chapters across Canada. The Catholic Civil Rights League is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.

For further information: Joanne McGarry, Executive Director, 416-466-8244;