(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, June 2, 2017)
He’s a friend. A doctor. His name is Stuart. I stood at the front door of his home, my son beside me.
Stuart is the keeper of the children’s bicycles while we’re abroad. We swung by to make arrangements to get them. That’s all it was, an ordinary May evening. But the world was somehow different. Its axis had shifted. At least for Stuart.
He’d just returned from Queen’s Park, he informed me, with other doctors lobbying for a private member’s bill, that of MPP Jeff Yurek, from Elgin-London-Middlesex. Yurek’s bill supported doctor’s freedom of conscience in the matter of medically assisted death.
Stuart is a Hamilton surgeon. Ear, nose and throat. During his career he’s seen his share of cancer. He’s saved his share of lives, even as he’s seen his share of suffering and death. He’s a man of good faith. It shines through him naturally and it’s part of the professionalism for which he’s respected by peers, including overseas, in Egypt, where he gives of his little extra time.
Stuart’s day, humanly speaking, was a failure. Ontario’s Liberals chose to defeat Yurek’s bill and not protect doctors like Stuart from a new policy of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.
If you want to kill yourself, then Ontario’s doctors — Stuart and about 29,000 others — must help you, directly or indirectly, through at least formal referral; even if this violates their deepest moral convictions. Doctors not complying can now face discipline, maybe even job loss, according to the Ontario college policies.
To give perspective, of the planet’s 195 nations, you can count on your two hands the number where citizens can legally kill themselves. But even these few jurisdictions have the common decency to protect those doctors, those men and women who’ll look you cleanly in the eye, like Stuart did to me, and say, “I won’t have anything to do with it.”
They’re protected in these jurisdictions, including other Canadian provinces. Just not in Ontario.
If you want to kill yourself, in, say, Alberta, like in, say, Holland or Belgium or Luxemburg, you simply refer yourself to a euthanasia service, or to a willing doctor who then formally refers you. The Dr. Stuarts of the world aren’t involved because it makes no sense to involve them.
Unless you want to target them. Or unless you’re a professional medical college, or a provincial government, with a desire for control that’s greater than the libertarian values you profess.
Ironically, the doctors who are often awarded by professional peers, and recognized by broader society, for their exceptional humanitarian work are now the very doctors of conscience being bullied into this choice that is not a choice, into this rather horrible groupthink, into taking part, even implicitly, in an act that, until recently, was a criminal offence.
This is the view from Stuart’s front door. He’s not alone.
The Ontario Medical Association supports conscious rights. So does Concerned Ontario Doctors, a coalition representing 20,000 doctors. So did a clear majority of public presentations to a legislative subcommittee on this matter. So have thousands of constituent letters to MPPs. So have faith organizations across religious spectrums.
They all see the good sense to allow for freedom of conscience alongside new euthanasia services. It’s neither complicated nor onerous. Rural Ontarians in low-service areas can easily self-refer through centralized assisted-death services.
Protecting doctors who are faithfully committed to life would seem especially reasonable in a part of the world that prides itself for its tolerance and for its common freedoms. Or are these vaulted values not for everyone?
No, Ontario’s good doctors are now left blowing in the wind. The result, of course, is that tomorrow’s good doctors may readily choose other work. We’ll all be poorer for that. And more vulnerable.
Consider the next likely stop with all this, the courts, in light of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That will drag for years. Remarkably sad. And remarkably avoidable.