Physicians support referrals for assisted dying requests

Most Canadian doctors support requiring physicians to refer patients who with to hasten their death to a colleague, independent third party, or medical administrator, even while most doctors would personally refuse to assist a terminally ill patient's death, according to a survey by the Canadian Medical Association of its members.

Of the over 1400 respondents, 63% would refuse outright to assist in a patient's death and 29% said doctors should not have to do anything if a patient requests assistance in their death. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada's prohibition on assisted suicide in February, agreeing that it violated an individual's right to security of person. Governments were giving one year to develop a new regime to allow terminally ill patients the choice to end their suffering.

The results of the survey were announced during the CMA Annual Conference currently happening in Halifax. There delegates are debating the role of the CMA in developing new regulations around assisted dying. The CMA has refused to date to take a stance for or against assisted dying.

The CMA press release reports that medical students and residents are strongly against permitting such conscientious objection clauses:

“Our role is not to tell patients what to do,” said one medical student. “It is to tell them the facts.”

A medical resident based in northern Manitoba added: “We need to keep in mind that the patient comes first.”

Dr Margaret Burnett, president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, told the National Post:

“We all hold different beliefs, and we think of ethics of being the moral high ground, a Christian system. What if a physician has the belief that it’s all right to beat your wife, sometimes justifiable to even kill her? It’s not up to the physician to decide what’s legal in Canada.”

The BC Humanists will continue to argue that conscientious objection clauses in medicine must be extremely narrow and not prevent an individual from accessing legal medical procedures and prescriptions. As Luis Granados writes on

Rights to conscientious objection need to be rare, unrelated to the supernatural, and applied in a manner that places first priority on the mission society has chosen to be important, whether it’s winning a necessary war or putting individual women in charge of their own pregnancy decisions.

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