In the first Canadian test of conscience rights for doctors who oppose assisted death, an Ontario court has upheld regulations requiring the objectors to refer their patients to physicians willing to perform the procedure.
Groups representing 4,700 Christian doctors had challenged Ontario’s regulations requiring the referrals, saying that making such a referral was morally equivalent to participating in an assisted death.
But Ontario’s Divisional Court said the referral rule was a reasonable limit on doctors’ freedom of religion because it protects vulnerable patients from harm. And those patients, it said, have a constitutional right to equitable access to publicly funded health care.
The ruling comes as the faith-based medical community struggles to find a middle ground in the era of assisted dying, which has made it more difficult for some patients to obtain an assisted death in a timely manner. Some hospitals run by Catholic, Jewish or other religious groups have declined to offer assisted dying, transferring such patients to other facilities.