Christian doctors challenge Ontario college’s new referral policy

Doctors with religious or moral objections to procedures such as abortion and assisted suicide should not be forced to provide referrals that will facilitate them, a group of Christian doctors argues in a court filing.

TORONTO — Doctors with religious or moral objections to procedures such as abortion and assisted suicide should not be forced to provide referrals that will facilitate them, a group of Christian doctors argues in a court filing.

The Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada is asking the Ontario Superior Court to overturn a College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario policy on professional obligations and human rights.

The policy says that if a physician is unwilling to provide certain elements of care because of moral or religious beliefs, an “effective referral” must be provided to another health-care provider.

That obligation means ultimately facilitating a procedure the doctors object to on religious grounds, said Larry Worthen, the group’s executive director. The group’s 1,700 members have a variety of “conscience concerns” such as abortion, physician-assisted death, in vitro fertilization and contraception, he said.

“Our members got into medicine because they were convinced that they could help people, that they could help heal them, that they could serve them and meet their needs,” he said.

The doctors did not get into the practice of medicine to participate in procedures they believe are going to harm human life, Worthen said.

“It’s not healing to refer someone for euthanasia. It’s not healing to refer someone for abortion.”

Worthen said it’s not a conflict between doctors and patients, particularly in the cases of abortion, as a patient does not need a doctor referral.

The college said it believes the policy strikes the “appropriate balance between physicians’ Charter rights, their professional and ethical obligations and the expectations of the public.”

“The policy requires that physicians act in a manner that respects patient dignity, ensures access to care, and protects patient safety when they choose not to provide health care for reasons of their religion or conscience,” the college said in a statement.

“The policy does not require physicians to perform procedures or provide treatments to which they object on religious basis, except during a medical emergency.”

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said he thinks the college’s policy is a “reasonable balance.”

“Ontarians have a right to expect to be treated with respect and dignity and that includes having access to the best quality of care,” said the minister, who is also a medical doctor. “It’s a physician’s obligation to ensure that they have that access.”