Thursday, February 11, 2021

Assisted suicide and conscience rights must be reconciled.

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

As the Canadian government debates the expansion of euthanasia through Bill C-7, one key area of contention that has not been solved is respecting the conscience rights of medical professionals who oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide (MAiD).

Brian Bird, a legal expert, and bioethicist Christina Lamb wrote an excellent opinion article that was published by the National Post, examining the topic of conscience rights for medical professionals based on the likely expansion of euthanasia in Canada.

Bird and Lamb open their article with the story of the Delta Hospice Society who are being closed because they refuse to provide euthanasia. They state:
These impending changes to the law on assisted death will likely coincide with the forced closure of the Irene Thomas Hospice centre by British Columbia’s Fraser Health Authority. The closure stems from the hospice’s refusal to offer assisted death since it betrays the principles of palliative care at the end of life.
They analyze the issue of conscience rights based on the Supreme Court of Canada (assisted death) decision:
In Carter v. Canada, the 2015 ruling of the Supreme Court that opened the door to assisted death, the court did not determine that medically assisted death is a freestanding charter right. It invalidated, on charter grounds, the absolute Criminal Code prohibition on assisted suicide, to the extent that it criminalized medically assisted death in certain medical circumstances.

The court did not mandate that the procedure become part of our health-care system. Indeed, the court has no jurisdiction to mandate such a policy decision. Instead, it predicted that government would intervene to manage assisted death rather than leave it unregulated, and called on governments to include provisions for those who conscientiously object to the practice. These important but often overlooked features of the Supreme Court decision inescapably bear on what the process ought to look like.

While governments and regulators have worked to introduce, normalize and expand assisted death in Canada over the last five years, some have woefully neglected the call to reconcile the legalization of assisted death with the moral or ethical freedom to object to it.
They examine the Delta Hospice Society story based on the Supreme Court decision:
The reconciliation called for in Carter requires the state to make every effort to accommodate health-care professionals and institutions that, for moral and ethical reasons, do not want to be involved in assisted death. The prevailing approach to date has been hostile to conscientious health-care professionals and organizations that legitimately object to being part of an act that, in their view, has nothing to do with health care. The forced closure of the Irene Thomas Hospice for refusing to perform assisted death within its walls shows that the powers that be have gone too far. This decision must be reversed immediately.
They conclude by recognizing conscience rights as fundamental freedoms. They state:
Canadian health-care professionals must be free to fulfill their calling to care for, and not to kill, those who are sick and dying. Human rights, justice, dignity, solidarity and liberal democracy all demand that the neglect of freedom of conscience in Canada’s health-care system be reconciled before it is too late. It would, most importantly, be the ethical thing to do.
More articles on this topic:

No comments: