Alberta conscience rights “big win” for doctors who object to providing euthanasia or abortion

(Image by ckstockphoto courtesy of

Effective referral not on table any more for Alberta doctors

By Quinton Amundson, The Catholic Register

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – Pro-life organizations are celebrating the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta’s (CPSA) decision not to impose an “effective referral” mandate that would have forced health practitioners to violate conscience rights to facilitate objectionable procedures like assisted suicide or abortion.

“Forcing a doctor to make an ‘effective referral’ is to force them to participate in a procedure against their medical judgment and their conscience,” said Pete Baklinski, communications director of Campaign Life Coalition. “In essence, many doctors of conscience see making an effective referral as them being the first domino in a series of events that result in what they view as a negative outcome for their patient.”
The CPSA planned to insert an “effective referral” requirement in its Conscientious Objection standards of practice. However, there was backlash from doctors during the consultation period, with some warning the CPSA they would practice in another province if such a plan was put in place.

On its website, CPSA said: “Based on initial feedback received, the term ‘effective referral’ will be removed from the Conscientious Objection standard. Those that provide feedback during the consultation period will be consulted again during the re-consultation phase and see additional edits before final approval.”

Nicole Scheidl, executive director of Canadian Physicians for Life, welcomed this news as “a big win.” She wrote in an email that if the CPSA went ahead with its planned mandate, it would have violated the Criminal Code of Canada.

“When euthanasia was made legal in Canada both the courts and the government assured physicians and other health-care professionals that they would not be forced to participate,” wrote Scheidl. “The carve-out in the criminal code which makes euthanasia not homicide says specifically: ‘For greater certainty, nothing in this section compels an individual to provide or assist in providing medical assistance in dying.’

“While this seems clear, professional governing bodies (like the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario) have been pushing physicians to become complicit by forcing them to make ‘effective referrals.’ Many physicians left Ontario or stopped practising family medicine in response to this practice standard.”

Campaign Life called on Alberta Premier Danielle Smith to pass legislation that further protects health-care workers.

Meanwhile, Scheidl stated that the work continues as Canadian Physicians for Life campaigns against “effective referrals,” particularly with medical assistance in dying about to be opened up to those suffering from mental illness.

“Many physicians are so busy with taking care of their patients that they are not aware of the (upcoming) expansion of euthanasia to those who are not near death and whose sole underlying criteria is mental illness,” wrote Scheidl. “This means that many of their patients qualify under the expanded rules, and they will be forced to participate through effective referral. It is also important to note that patients suffer when physicians leave practice early or restrict the type of practice they do because they are committed to life-affirming care.”

Unless there is a last-minute delay, and the federal government signaled the possibility, assisted suicide for individuals solely experiencing mental illness will become legal on March 17.

RELATED: Canadian Catholic bishops renew opposition to euthanasia in Catholic health care facilities

RELATED: Pause considered on medically-provided death for mental illness alone