Monday, August 18, 2008

Forcing our doctors' hands
Lorne Gunter, National Post Published: Monday, August 18, 2008

One of the best-known aid organizations in the world is Medecins Sans Frontieres -- Doctors Without Borders. It may soon be joined by a similar group operating within Canada's largest province -- Medecins Sans Conscience -- Doctors Without Consciences.

If the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) gets its way, Ontario's doctors will soon be stripped of their right to follow their moral convictions or religious beliefs when treating patients. In other words, doctors will risk losing their licenses if they run afoul of Ontario's human rights police.

If, out of moral conviction, they refuse to perform abortions, refer patients for abortions or prescribe morning-after and birth control pills, or if they refuse to help same-sex couples conceive children, their own governing body will take away their right to practice medicine.

Should euthanasia become legal at some point, physicians would be expected to help patients die, too, even if doing so violated their every moral fibre. I may not agree with social conservatives that assisted suicide or abortion should be illegal, yet I am repulsed by the idea of coercing doctors into participating in procedures that contravene their morality. It is nothing short of politically correct extortion to threaten doctors with their livelihood if they don't buckle under and practice medicine the way Ontario's human rights junta thinks it should be practiced.

The key passage in the CPSO's seven-page proposal states that a "physician's responsibility is to place the needs of the patient first, [so] there will be times when it may be necessary for physicians to set aside their personal beliefs in order to ensure that patients or potential patients are provided with the medical services they require."

But a lot of the services the CPSO proposes forcing physicians to perform are hardly "necessary."

A particular woman may want an abortion for any number of reasons, but unless her own life is in danger from her pregnancy, it cannot truly be said that an abortion is necessary. Similarly with the desire of same-sex couples to have children; it may be a strong desire, but it is hardly a necessity.

So long as there are no prohibitions against doctors performing these services, the rights of women and gays and lesbians are not violated. They may get what they want without trampling on the rights of conscientious-objector doctors.

There may be some inconvenience involved. Patients seeking abortions or same-sex conception may have to travel to another Ontario town or city to fulfill their rights, but inconvenience is not the same as discrimination.

Freedom often isn't easy. Yet we have developed a very juvenile notion that unless our freedoms come with no obligations or consequences, we aren't really free, which is nonsense.

What the CPSO is proposing, in effect, is to set itself up as an enforcer for the new Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) by incorporating the Tribunal's concept of rights into the physicians' code of professional conduct. This would enable the college to discipline a doctor for political rather than medical conduct. Any Ontario doctor refusing to abide by the twisted definition of rights contained in the province's human rights code -- in which some groups are more equal than others -- could be deemed a bad doctor and decertified.

This is yet another example of the tyranny of human rights commissions over our daily lives. Should these new rules be adopted next month, an Ontario doctor could be barred from practicing medicine not because he or she is unethical or incompetent, but merely because he or she fails to share the same political view of rights and morality as the HRTO (and the brass of the CPSO).

If this were really about maximizing human rights, the college would be proposing to protect from professional discipline any doctor assisting in abortions, same-sex contraception or other morally charged procedures. Instead, by insisting that all doctors must participate in such procedures, regardless of their personal beliefs, the college is taking sides. Like human rights tribunals and commissions, it is placing the rights of women and gays ahead of those of doctors and people of faith, whether they are Jews, Muslims, Christians or others.

The college is not seeking justice, it is demanding conformity. It is not striving for "choice" for patients and doctors, it is attempting to force acceptance of one political and moral view on everyone.

If there is anything unethical in the debate over physicians' consciences, the one-philosophy-trumps-all attitude of the CPSO is it.