By Letter to the Editor on November 27, 2019.
Bill 207, the so-called Conscience Rights Protection Act, was introduced to the Alberta Legislature privately by Daniel Williams, a new MLA. It has failed to make it as far as second reading and so dies. Had it been enacted, certain health-care professionals, including physicians, would have been allowed to refuse any help to their patients seeking advice on matters such as therapeutic abortion, medical aid in dying (MAID) and issues pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community.
MAID has been legal across Canada since 2016 and so far, nearly 7,000 people have availed themselves of its provisions to escape from the pain and suffering brought about by illness like terminal cancer, for which no treatment, acceptable to them, is available.
Health-care regulatory bodies such as the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons across the country do not demand that all of their members assess for and provide MAID. They do, however, insist that physicians who do not wish to be part of the process provide an “effective referral.” In other words, they cannot just tell their patients seeking help to go away. It is this provision that some doctors regard as infringing upon their consciences. They claim that following their colleges’ regulations places them at odds with their consciences. In Alberta, all a physician has to do, when faced with such awkward situations, is to ask the sufferer to phone the Alberta Health Help Line: 811. This line is staffed by willing and knowledgeable persons who will provide all of the necessary help and steer the enquirer in the right direction.
Now I sympathize with and understand health-care professionals who do not wish to carry out these contentious procedures for conscientious reasons. I also happen to believe that all health-care professionals have a duty of care to their patients which cannot just be shucked off. If providing a distressed sufferer with a telephone number so gravely assaults a reluctant practitioner’s conscience, then the owner of that conscience possesses a sensitivity that this old sinner comes nowhere near to understanding.