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Wesley Smith is right: north of the border there is a concerted attempt to erase the conscience rights of doctors, by demanding referrals for the killing of the unborn (who do not need to put in a request) and of the terminally ill (who thus far do) and, for that matter, of any other procedure deemed “medical.”

The Montreal Gazette today published a letter of mine objecting to this “ethical cleansing” of conscientious objectors from the medical community. The editor chose to leave off my final remark, that “the time has come to press for the full legal rights and recognition for those, both patients and professionals, of Hippocratic conviction. Bill 52 notwithstanding, and Carter v. Canada notwithstanding, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms still guarantees freedom of conscience and religion.”

While Carter (a truly atrocious judgment) left open the question of how patients’ rights and doctors’ rights are to be balanced under the Charter, it is noteworthy that the former set of rights is always considered only in terms of the rights of those who desire “medical assistance in dying” and never in terms of the rights of those who want physicians and health care professionals committed to the Hippocratic principles. It is imperative, at least as a holding action, that the latter be asserted and defended. Otherwise it will soon be impossible even to be trained in medicine without grave violations of conscience.

Medicine is not a field we can afford to abandon, but it is a field perilously close to being lost. That even the physicians themselves are now, by a large majority, confused to the point that they think refusals to refer are morally objectionable (and professionally unacceptable) is very worrisome. We can guess pretty well what the courts will do in their balancing act, given that fact.

In addition to the moral confusion, there is dangerous procedural confusion as well. The Gazette and other outlets also report today that “doctor’s leaders in Quebec are poised to recommend [that] euthanasia be kept off death certificates.” So the doctor can do you in and put down the cause of death as “natural,” and only the Death Panel will know. Needless to say, there won’t be any conscientious objectors there either.

PS: Medicine is not the only field, of course, that we cannot afford to abandon. The “just resign” bandwagon, for conscientious objectors, belongs to a long parade. Do we wish to abandon law as well, for example? Who then will lead the fight for full legal rights and recognition of our moral minority in medicine or any other profession? The situation on both sides of the border is more serious than some people seem to think.

Douglas Farrow is professor of Christian Thought and Kennedy Smith Chair in Catholic Studies at McGill University and a member of First Things’ advisory council.

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