The National Post is reporting that the regulating body for Ontario physicians has backed off a controversial proposal that would have forced doctors to put aside their religious views when dealing with patients. Protests from the Ontario Medical Association and numerous religious groups appear to have tempered the thinking of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. Hopefully the US will do the same.
The new document, released on Wednesday, has removed provisions that would have potentially seen doctors face more misconduct charges for putting their own conscience before the convenience of patients.
For example, it could have applied to doctors who not only refuse to prescribe birth control pills, or do fertility treatments for same-sex couples, but also to those who refuse to offer referrals to doctors who do those things.
“Referring is just a way of sloughing off your responsibility,” Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa, said last week. “If you’re opposed to these things, referring is the same as taking part in the evil.”
The College of Physicians and Surgeons released its first draft policy in August. It warned doctors that they could see more charges being filed through the Ontario Human Rights Commission for withholding services. But it also indicated that doctors would face misconduct charges by the college as well, something that happens in no other province.
The new policy, which is scheduled to be voted on today, now serves as more of a warning about what doctors may face from the Human Rights Commission.
“The draft policy was always meant as a basis for discussion,” said Jill Hefley, a spokeswoman for the college.
Last week, the Ontario Medical Association asked the college to abandon the draft policy because it “interfered with physicians’ existing rights and freedoms.” It said the draft failed to note that doctors are also protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, like any other citizen.
“We believe it should never be professional misconduct for an Ontarian physician to act in accordance with his or her religious beliefs.”
Thomas Collins, Archbishop of the Dioceses of Toronto, also told the college that many physicians feared they would be “brought before human rights tribunals for following their consciences.” But he saw no reason why it would then be necessary for the college to add sanctions of its own. “Is that the cost of being true to one’s conscience?” he asked.
Sean Murphy of the Protection of Conscience Project, a group that tries to protect the rights of health workers, said the new document appears to be much improved from the original draft.
“It’s more clear in this document that the bogey man is the Ontario Human Rights Commission,” he said.
But he is concerned that one clause remaining in the policy could hurt doctors who exercise conscience.
It says the “college has its own expectations for physicians who limit their practice, refuse to accept individuals as patients, or end a physician-patient relationship on the basis of moral beliefs.”
He said this provision still needs to be clarified by officials.