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Canada And The Erosion Of Conscience

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By DONALD DeMARCO

Pro-abortionists have consistently argued that a woman should have the freedom to follow her conscience. Granted that this notion of conscience is incomplete since it may not be properly formed, nonetheless it gave pro-life people the assurance that this right to one’s conscience would protect doctors who are opposed to abortion from being compelled to participate in abortion.
Unfortunately, in Canada, the tide has turned. The freedom of conscience that justified abortion, as well as euthanasia, no longer extends to doctors who oppose these practices. On May 15, 2019, and by a unanimous decision, Ontario’s highest court ruled that religious doctors must offer patients an “effective referral” for abortion, medical-assistance in dying, and other contentious “health” services.
“Given the importance of family physicians as ‘gatekeepers’ and ‘patient navigators,’ in the health-care system,” three judges agreed, “there is compelling evidence that patients will suffer harm in the absence of an effective referral.”
Ironically, as Barry Bussey pointed out in a May 17, 2019 article in the National Post (“With Ontario court’s ruling on doctors, the revolution continues”), there was not a single shred of evidence that showed even one person in Ontario wanted to end their life or the life of their preborn child but was unable to get the ‘treatment’ they wanted because of physicians’ religious objections.”
In addition, the court, noted in its own record that “there was no direct evidence that access to health care is a problem caused by physicians’ objections to providing care.” Nonetheless, on the grounds of a hypothesis for which there was no correlative reality, the court decided to criminalize doctors who would refuse to give a patient an “effective referral” for abortion or euthanasia. It viewed its decision as striking “a reasonable balance between patients’ interests and physician’s Charter-protected religious freedom.” It is interesting to note that freedom of conscience is the first freedom listed in the Canadian Charter. How can such a travesty of justice come about?
Agreeing with the court ruling, Dr. Nancy Whitmore, registrar and CEO of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), stated that “the court has recognized the importance of ensuring patients get access to the care they need. Our effective referral policy ensures equitable access to health care, particularly on the part of the more vulnerable members of our society while respecting the rights of all of those involved.”
Nonetheless, these “vulnerable” people have yet to be found. In 2018, from January 1 to October 31, 2,614 people in Canada succeeded in being put to death by means of medical assistance. Abortion claims the lives of approximately 100,000 unborn Canadians per year. It is hard to believe that persons living in Ontario who want assistance-in-dying or an abortion cannot find either a doctor who will accommodate them or one who will give them a referral, but are reliant solely on physicians who withhold an “effective referral” because of religious reasons.
The truly vulnerable people in this case are the doctors who want to practice their profession in accordance with a clear conscience.
In criticizing the ruling, Dr. Ryan Wilson, president of Canadian Physicians for Life, remarked that “ultimately it is patient care that suffers, as our doctors will retire early, relocate, or change fields.” In this case, many patients, vulnerable or otherwise, will be neglected. The court decision will deprive patients of care and violate the conscience of members of the medical profession. This is a “balance” only in the most perverse sense of the term.
How can one begin to understand the court ruling? The court repeatedly referred to abortion and assistance-in-dying as forms of “health” and “care.” Here is a key to the problem. Once abortion and assistance-in-dying are seen in this light, it suddenly seems reasonable to coerce doctors into participating in such activities. After all, doctors are pledged to provide health and care. It must be insisted, however, that killing the unborn or those who are born does not represent instances of “health” or “care.” In this case, politics has hijacked science.
Pope St. John Paul II rightly said: “When freedom does not have a purpose, when it does not wish to know anything about the rule of law engraved in the hearts of men and women, when it does not listen to the voice of conscience, it turns against humanity and society.”
The ruling of three judges should not be used to replace the properly formed conscience of the individual. “There is a higher court than courts of justice,” wrote Mahatma Gandhi, “and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.” A court is not a conscience.
As politics supplants science, coercion replaces conscience. The word “conscience,” we should recall, means “with knowledge” (con + scientia). The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia reflected this notion when he remarked: “More important than your obligation to follow your conscience, or at least prior to it, is your obligation to form your conscience properly.” We form our conscience in relation to what is good, not necessarily to what the courts dictate.
From a historical viewpoint, Canada has profited immensely from the courageous citizens who, acting in accordance with their properly formed consciences, helped to win and secure the rights and privileges that her present citizens enjoy, but are in danger of losing.
Abortion introduces a Culture of Death. Its roots are very deep. In order to maintain it and convince people of its alleged legitimacy, efforts must be made to re-identify it as a form of “health” or “care.” This distortion of language then applies to the various forms of euthanasia. Society beings to unravel as soon as killing is seen as good. Inevitably, conscientious objection to killing comes to be seen as bad.
(Dr. Donald DeMarco is a professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary. He is a regular columnist for the St. Austin Review. His latest books, How to Navigate Through Life and Apostles of the Culture of Life, are posted on amazon.com.)

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