Protection of Freedom of Conscience Act

An Act to amend the Criminal Code (intimidation of health care professionals)

Sponsor

Kelly Block  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (House), as of March 28, 2022

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-230.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Medical Assistance in DyingPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

March 29th, 2022 / 1:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Glen Motz Conservative Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, AB

Madam Speaker, the second petition has to do with conscience rights. Yesterday, my colleague from Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek spoke on her bill, Bill C-230, the protection of freedom of conscience act, and I am presenting a petition today that supports this legislation. The petitioners are concerned about doctors and health professionals who might be coerced into engaging and supporting euthanasia or MAID, and they want conscience rights and second opinions to be protected.

The petitioners ask that protection of conscience rights be enshrined into law, protecting physicians and health care workers from coercion or intimidation regarding providing or referring someone for MAID or euthanasia.

Protection of Freedom of Conscience ActPrivate Members' Business

March 28th, 2022 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of Bill C-230, the protection of freedom of conscience act, introduced by my friend, the member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek.

The bill before us is much-needed legislation to protect the charter rights of medical professionals who conscientiously object to providing or otherwise participating in medical assistance in dying. I want to commend the member for her steadfast leadership in championing conscience rights and for bringing this bill back to the House, as she introduced a similar bill that died on the Order Paper in the last Parliament.

Medical assistance in dying raises profound legal, moral and ethical questions. The trial judge in the Carter decision, which struck down the Criminal Code prohibition against physician-assisted death, stated, “The evidence shows that thoughtful and well-motivated people can and have come to different conclusions about whether physician-assisted death can be ethically justifiable.” This is true of patients, and it is true of medical professionals.

Medical professionals have a duty to do what is in the best interest of their patients and to provide the best possible advice based upon their judgment and experience, all of which are grounded on moral and professional convictions. In the case of medical assistance in dying, there are professional, moral and ethical considerations of the highest weight.

In the Carter decision, the Supreme Court predicated its decision on two things: a willing patient and, as importantly, a willing physician. At paragraph 132 of the Carter decision, the court said that nothing in its pronouncement would compel medical professionals to participate in MAID. The court went further in stating that, “However, we note...in addressing the topic of physician participation...that a physician’s decision to participate in assisted dying is a matter of conscience and, in some cases, of religious belief.” In other words, again, it requires a willing patient and a willing physician.

Now, there are those who would say that this legislation is redundant, that it is not needed, and that in terms of medical assistance in dying, conscience rights of medical professionals are already protected. They would point to the pronouncement in Carter. They might also cite Bill C-14, which includes a preamble that expressly recognizes conscience rights as well as a “for greater certainty” clause in the Criminal Code, which simply provides that “for greater certainty, nothing in this section compels an individual” to provide MAID.

While the intention of Parliament was to protect the conscience rights of medical professionals when Bill C-14 was debated and passed—and I was there for, and actively participated in, that debate and the study of that bill at committee—in practice, conscience protections and the rights of medical professionals are not being respected across Canada. There is a gap, and that is why, when Bill C-7 was studied at the justice committee, we heard from medical professionals who expressed serious concerns about pressure and coercion in providing MAID.

Indeed, the Ontario Medical Association wrote to our committee and specifically called on the committee to amend Bill C-7 to provide greater conscience protections for medical professionals, given that the “for greater certainty” clause, although better than nothing, simply does not have teeth. It is not enforceable. In that context, while the Criminal Code does not compel a medical professional to provide MAID, there is nothing in the Criminal Code that specifically protects medical professionals when they are pressured or coerced to provide MAID. This bill addresses that gap and would close it by establishing two targeted offences; namely, it would make it an offence to intimidate or coerce a medical professional with regard to providing or participating in MAID, and secondly, it would make it an offence to dismiss or refuse to hire a medical professional solely on the grounds that they object to participating in MAID.

While this legislation would protect the rights of medical professionals, it must also be emphasized that this bill would just as much protect the rights of patients. The bill would protect the rights of patients by protecting the physician-patient relationship. It would do so by safeguarding the ability of medical professionals to provide their best advice and judgment, free of pressure and free of coercion, to a patient who is considering medical assistance in dying. It would protect patients by protecting their right to a second opinion. There can be no second opinion, or at least a guarantee of a second opinion, in the face of coercion or pressure to provide medical assistance in dying. There can be no second opinion when the only choice offered to a patient is medical assistance in dying as a result of pressure and coercion.

The need to safeguard the patient-physican relationship, which this bill works toward achieving, is all the more needed in the face of the radical expansion of medical assistance in dying in Canada with the passage of Bill C-7, which removes critical safeguards, including the criterion that death be reasonably foreseeable and opens the door to medical assistance in dying for persons who are suffering solely from a mental illness, even though it is never possible to predict when someone who is suffering from mental illness can get better. It is never possible to predict irremediability in the case of a solely mental illness. As a result of the removal of those critical safeguards, vulnerable patients are put at greater risk.

When the conscience rights of medical professionals to exercise their best judgment are protected free of intimidation and coercion, the rights of patients are equally protected. This is a timely, targeted and necessary piece of legislation that would protect the rights of medical professionals and their charter rights and the rights of patients. I urge its passage.

Protection of Freedom of Conscience ActPrivate Members' Business

March 28th, 2022 / 11:45 a.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased though a bit surprised to be speaking on Bill C-230. Less than a year ago, on May 27, 2021, we were in the House debating Bill C-268, the very same bill from the very same member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek. While I am a bit in awe of the member's ability to place so highly in the random draw for Private Members' Business in two successive Parliaments, I am also at a bit of a loss to explain why the member would squander her luck on this bill.

There are two reasons I say this. As MPs we get limited opportunities to place bills directly before the House. I had that opportunity in 2013, and I used it to put forward Bill C-279, which sought to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in the Canadian human rights code and in the hate crime section of the Criminal Code. Though many thought it unlikely, the bill did pass the House with support from MPs from all parties. It took a lot of work to put together that coalition of MPs. While my bill followed a somewhat torturous path, there was always a path forward and it became law.

I wonder why it is that having heard so clearly, in speeches less than a year ago, that there was limited, if any, support for this bill outside her own party, the member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek has brought it back again. Since there is nothing to indicate any change of circumstances or any change of heart, this bill will go nowhere this time as well. Failing to bring forth a bill that might have some prospect for passing or reintroducing this bill instead of bringing forward a new bill presenting ideas not already debated here in the House leads me to call reintroducing this bill, at best, a missed opportunity.

The second reason I have for declaring the reintroduction of this bill a lost opportunity has to do with the bill itself. This bill picks up a tiny portion of the extensive and important debates on medical assistance in dying that took place on Bill C-14 in Parliament in 2016 and again on C-7 in the last Parliament. It seeks to take one small and very debatable point and turn it into a wedge issue in the House.

We are waiting for the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying to get down to work on outstanding important and critical issues around medical assistance in dying, but as that committee has yet to get under way, I want to take this opportunity today to restate the principle that has guided New Democrats through these debates.

We believe that medical assistance in dying is an important tool for helping to end unnecessary suffering for patients facing end-of-life issues and for avoiding the unnecessary suffering of their families, who have to accompany them on this journey. This is the reason New Democrats will always defend the right of access to information about MAID and access to the service for all those who qualify for assistance in dying and choose to proceed.

In the debate on Bill C-7, many issues arose concerning the challenges Canadians face at the end of life, some of which Bill C-7 addressed directly and some which have not yet been addressed. Two important concerns were front and centre, and these, for me, were the most important. The first was to help alleviate unnecessary suffering by eliminating the waiting period, which was a cause of great concern for patients who feared loss of capacity before they could complete the waiting period and thus make them ineligible for medical assistance in dying and forced to consider suffering.

The second was a change allowing a waiver of final consent. This is a provision I know quite well, personally, as a friend of mine chose to go earlier than she would have liked because of a brain tumour and her fear that she would lose capacity to consent at the last moment and, in doing so, have to continue making her family suffer.

A second challenge was also debated in Bill C-7. How do we preserve as much autonomy as possible for Canadians who are dying? Most of the issues related to this still have to be dealt with at the special joint committee. This includes questions of advance directives, the question of access to MAID for those with mental illness and for mature minors, and whether protections for people with disabilities from being pressured to seek MAID are adequate. I remain frustrated with the delays in dealing with these very important issues. The bill before us is not one of those.

A third challenge that came up in the debate on Bill C-7 was access to services at the end of life. We learned there are a great many gaps in services in our Canadian health care system for those who are facing death. There are gaps in diagnostic and treatment services depending on where one lives, whether it is a major city with excellent facilities or a rural and remote area. We learned of important gaps in palliative care.

However, instead of addressing these challenges, the challenges of autonomy and the challenges of access to services, Bill C-230 is about something else altogether. What this bill would do is override a patient's right to access information about and to have access to legally provided medical services, based on the personal beliefs of a service provider.

Let me put that in plain language. Let us suppose there are a variety of treatments available to a patient. It does not really matter in this case what they are. If a medical professional believes that one of them should not be available, this bill says there is no obligation on that professional to make sure patients find out all the options available to them. Professional organizations, like colleges of physicians and surgeons, and colleges of nurses, have found this to be unethical behaviour, so they require doctors, to varying degrees, to refer patients to someone who is supportive of those services and who is available to provide those services.

This requirement to refer exists in its strictest form in Ontario as the right of patients to an effective referral, meaning a referral to a health care professional who is available, capable and willing to provide that service. This has been upheld by the courts as a reasonable compromise between the rights of patients' access to medical issues and the conscience rights of service providers. That is the main reason I cannot support this bill. If passed, it would result, on a very real and practical basis, in the denial of access to necessary health services for many Canadians.

Many communities have a very limited number of doctors and if one of those doctors, or even more than one of those doctors, is unwilling to let their patients find out about medical assistance in dying, then we are condemning those Canadians to suffer at the end of life in ways that other Canadians would not have to suffer. No health care professionals are in fact required by law to participate, and that is why I find titling this bill “intimidation of health care professionals” disingenuous at best. Is requiring a referral actually participation in medical assistance in dying? Clearly it is not, and trying to torque a requirement to provide information into participation helps no one understand the real issues of conscience involved in medical assistance in dying.

An equally important reason for opposing this bill is the dangerous precedent that this bill would set. Its role as a potentially precedent-setting bill has already been noted by anti-choice advocates who have been vocal in their support for this bill. They recognize that it would provide a precedent for denying referrals for access to contraception and abortion services, and I want to point out that denials of service and denials of information are very real in our existing Canadian medical care system.

This bill would also be a very bad precedent for current attempts to deny transgender minors the counselling and medical services they need to affirm who they are. Without access to services that others may think are inappropriate, this will leave families with trans minors struggling to find the information and support that their kids really need. If this kind of precedent is allowed, medical professionals would not have to provide a referral to someone who would be providing a medically necessary service.

As I approach the end of my comments today, I cannot end without mentioning yet another unfortunate precedent set in this bill, and that is its use of inflammatory language. I have no doubt, as I said in my question to the sponsor of this bill, of her personal convictions and their strength. However, as sincere as they may be, the language used in this bill conjures up a spectre of the use of violence to intimidate medical professionals, something of which there is absolutely no evidence of happening in Canada. Invoking the spectre of violent intimidation is certainly not conducive to an informed debate on the real issues that are in question here.

I will close my comments today by restating that, on principle, New Democrats are opposed to any legislation that would limit access to Canadians seeking information about or the service of medical assistance in dying. No matter how strong the beliefs others may hold, this right exists to access medically necessary services. There is no doubt that the end of life is a difficult moment for all families, and medical assistance in dying, I still believe, is an important way of ending unnecessary suffering both for patients and families at the end of life. I would not like to see anyone denied access to information they need to make a choice that protects their own autonomy of how their lives end. At this point, let me salute the health care professionals who assist patients and their families through this very difficult process.

Once again, I lament the tendency of not just this member but, indeed, many Conservative members of the House to use private member's bills for scoring political points and sharpening divisions in the House—

Protection of Freedom of Conscience ActPrivate Members' Business

March 28th, 2022 / 11:25 a.m.
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Scarborough—Rouge Park Ontario

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak this morning with respect to Bill C-230, an act to amend the Criminal Code, intimidation of health care professionals, which was introduced by the member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek. I want to acknowledge that I am speaking today on the traditional unceded lands of the Algonquin people.

The stated goal of Bill C-230 is to protect an important right: the right to freedom of conscience and religion, which is guaranteed by section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is a laudable goal, but one that I do not think the bill achieves. The bill proposes to create two new criminal offences that seek to protect the right of health care professionals, including medical practitioners, nurse practitioners and pharmacists, to object to taking part in the provision of medical assistance in dying to provide services according to their conscience.

First, it proposes the creation of a new intimidation offence that would prohibit the use of coercion or any intimidating behaviour to compel a health care professional to participate, directly or indirectly, in the provision of MAID. Second, it proposes the creation of an employment sanctions offence that would prohibit employers from refusing to employ, or to dismiss, health care professionals solely because they refused to participate directly or indirectly in the provision of MAID.

We certainly all agree that it is imperative that the right to freedom of conscience and religion be protected, not only for health professionals in the context of medical assistance in dying, but for everyone in Canada.

This is central to ensuring that we are able to live our lives, both personally and professionally, with equal rights and dignity. However, I do not believe that the proposed Criminal Code amendments are necessary to protect this central right, so I must oppose the bill.

The proposed intimidation offence, which would prohibit the use of coercion or intimidation to compel a health care professional to participate in MAID, largely duplicates existing Criminal Code offences. For instance, in section 423, the Criminal Code already prohibits the use of violence, threats of violence, intimidation or attempts at intimidation to compel any person to abstain from doing anything that they have a lawful right to do, or to do anything that they have a lawful right to abstain from doing. Criminal Code section 346 also makes it an offence to extort someone, which is to use threats, accusations, menaces or violence to induce, or attempt to induce, that person to do anything or to cause anything to be done. These are both indictable offences and are punishable by maximums of 14 years imprisonment and life imprisonment, respectively.

The existing offences of intimidation and extortion apply in all circumstances, including in the context of the provision of MAID by health care professionals. I believe that these offences provide sufficient protection for health care professionals who do not wish to participate in the provision of MAID.

The proposed employment sanctions offence would prohibit employers from refusing to employ, or to dismiss, health care professionals simply because they refuse to participate in the provision of MAID. This is a valid and important objective, but I urge us to reflect on how such a provision may encroach on provincial and territorial jurisdiction.

As all members of the House are aware, MAID falls under the shared jurisdiction of the federal government, which has jurisdiction over criminal law, and of provincial governments, which are responsible for the provision of health care. However, with the exception of federally regulated sectors, employment-related matters generally fall within the responsibility of the provinces and territories. As such, employment concerns may be more appropriately addressed by the regulation of employers at the provincial and territorial level. Irrespective of jurisdictional issues, I also wonder whether criminal law is the right tool to use to address employment issues.

I am also mindful that, even though the preamble of Bill C-230 suggests that it seeks to respond to circumstances in which practitioners are required to make effective referrals for MAID, the bill would not address that issue because the professional orders that establish those policies would not be captured by the proposed employment sanctions offence.

We must remember that the MAID legislation simply permits the provision of MAID. It does not compel anyone to provide it, whether directly or indirectly. In fact, it contains a provision explicitly clarifying that “nothing in this section compels an individual to provide or assist in providing medical assistance in dying.” This can be found in subsection 241.2(9).

I am not aware of any evidence that suggests that health care professionals are being coerced or intimidated to provide MAID. I wholeheartedly believe that the criminal law already offers protection to anyone who may be coerced to participate in MAID. I would also like to remind members that the criminal law should be used sparingly.

I would also like to note that the proposed offences would offer protection only to health care professionals who object to taking part in the provision of MAID. They would not apply in circumstances where a health care professional may wish to provide MAID but is coerced or intimidated to abstain from providing it. I have to question why we would resort to creating a new criminal offence to protect one health care professional's freedom of conscience but not another's.

Canadians have varied opinions on MAID, depending on their personal circumstances, beliefs and experiences. Despite these diverse views, public opinion research consistently demonstrates strong support for MAID. Our MAID laws recognize the importance of permitting access to MAID as a means of relieving intolerable suffering for competent adults. The laws recognize that those who wish to access MAID should be able to do so, and available statistics show that many Canadians choose to receive MAID.

Since the first legislation in 2016 up until the most recent data released by Health Canada covering 2020, there have been 21,589 medically assisted deaths in Canada. The vast majority of persons who have received MAID had cancer as their main underlying condition, followed by persons who had cardiovascular conditions, chronic respiratory conditions and neurological conditions. This trend is consistent with the leading causes of death in Canada, which list cancer and heart disease as the number one and number two causes of death, respectively. These can be found in the Second Annual Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada 2020.

MAID is a complex and deeply personal issue that engages fundamental rights and interests, both for persons contemplating MAID and for the health care professionals who choose or choose not to participate in the provision of MAID. MAID is anything but straightforward, and we must continue to work together to find appropriate and effective solutions to balance the rights of persons to access MAID with the rights of health care professionals to provide quality care and service in accordance with their conscience. I appreciate the spirit of this bill, but I continue to have real concerns that it would appear to be an improper use of the Criminal Code. I must therefore oppose it.

Protection of Freedom of Conscience ActPrivate Members' Business

March 28th, 2022 / 11:05 a.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

moved that Bill C-230, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (intimidation of health care professionals), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise today to begin the debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-230, the protection of freedom of conscience act. This bill revives my private member's bill, which died on the Order Paper, from the last Parliament, with some slight modifications.

I would be remiss if I did not once again acknowledge that this bill is built on the hard work and determination of former members of Parliament. The first bill proposed to address this issue was introduced by the late Mark Warawa in 2016. His bill did not proceed because of the government's introduction of Bill C-14. After Bill C-14 was passed into law, my former colleague David Anderson introduced his private member's bill, Bill C-418, during the 42nd Parliament. However, that bill also died on the Order Paper when the general election was called in 2019.

I would like to thank all those who have been championing this issue for many years and their willingness to work with me. Experts throughout Canada have provided information and advice, while thousands of grassroots Canadians voiced their support for protecting our fundamental freedoms. I would also like to thank the Library of Parliament for its timely, diligent and expert research, which helped inform this proposed legislation.

For the purposes of this debate, I think it is important to understand conscience. There are numerous definitions of conscience, but they are consistent in defining it as an individual’s inner sense of knowing the difference between what is right and wrong and allowing that knowledge to guide their behaviour. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, under the heading of “Fundamental Freedoms”, in subsection 2(a) states that everyone has the fundamental freedom of conscience. In this way, Bill C-230 is straightforward. It seeks to add two new offences to the Criminal Code of Canada. I will read the summary so members will know what they are:

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to make it an offence to intimidate a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or other health care professional for the purpose of compelling them to take part, directly or indirectly, in the provision of medical assistance in dying.

It also makes it an offence to dismiss from employment or to refuse to employ a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or other health care professional for the reason only that they refuse to take part, directly or indirectly, in the provision of medical assistance in dying.

This bill is a response to calls from disability rights groups, first nations, the Ontario Medical Association, legal experts and many medical and mental health professionals to protect conscience rights. It ensures that medical professionals who choose not to take part in or refer a patient for assisted suicide or medical assistance in dying will never be forced or coerced to violate their freedoms as stated in the charter.

Previous Parliaments have passed laws that created the unintended consequence of doctors and medical professionals being forced to participate in providing a patient's death, regardless of whether they believe it is in their best interest. Bill C-14 and Bill C-7 created a federal standard for medical assistance in dying and assisted suicide but not for conscience protections.

By way of background, sections 241.1 to 241.4 of the Criminal Code of Canada deal with the provision of medical assistance in dying. These sections are in part VIII of the code. It deals with offences against the person and reputation, which include offences such as homicide, kidnapping, assault and many more. Subsection 241(1) of the Criminal Code still makes it a criminal offence to counsel or aid in a suicide. It reads:

Everyone is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 14 years who, whether suicide ensues or not,

(a) counsels a person to die by suicide or abets a person in dying by suicide; or

(b) aids a person to die by suicide.

When creating the exemption allowing for MAID, the government had to create an exemption to this prohibition on counselling or aiding in suicide. This then leads to the untenable claim that the Criminal Code already protects the conscience rights of medical professionals.

Some claim that the clarification clause, section 241.2 (9) of the Criminal Code, somehow protects conscience rights. It states:

For greater certainty, nothing in this section compels an individual to provide or assist in providing medical assistance in dying.

While I understand why some would want to think it protects conscience rights, I believe they are sadly mistaken. While I appreciate and support this inclusion in the Criminal Code, it only addresses one side of the coin. This clause only confirms that the Criminal Code is not the source of compulsion to participate in medical assistance in dying.

For the Criminal Code to have any teeth on this issue, it should articulate that it is an offence to compel someone to provide, or assist in providing, medical assistance in dying against their will. Compelling someone to participate in MAID can and does happen, which is why I have brought forward this legislation and why it needs to pass.

Regarding jurisdictional questions about this bill, as I mentioned earlier, this bill proposes that two new offences be added to the Criminal Code of Canada to address intimidation, dismissal from employment or refusal to employ a medical professional. This is similar to section 425 of the Criminal Code, which addresses the same actions taken by an employer to compel employees with respect to belonging to or organizing a union. I would suggest that if it is appropriate to have section 425 in the Criminal Code, it is reasonable to include the amendments I am proposing.

I would also submit that it is inaccurate to argue that conscience rights legislation somehow interferes with the role of the provinces while, at the same time, believing that the legalization of medical assistance in dying does not. Ensuring that conscience rights are protected is the responsibility of Parliament and of the Government of Canada, which is why I introduced this bill and why it should be passed.

Additionally, provinces can introduce their own conscience rights legislation for medical professionals. For example, Manitoba has passed simple and clear legislation in this regard, and I would encourage all provincial legislatures and parliaments to follow Manitoba’s example.

While the text of this bill focuses on the conscience rights of medical professionals, this legislation also serves to protect the right of patients to receive a second opinion. What do I mean by this? If all doctors are forced to propose MAID as a treatment option to their patients, this one-size-fits-all approach would give Canadian patients less choice, not more.

Additionally, individuals who object to MAID would be deterred from entering the medical profession altogether. Patients would no longer be able to seek a second opinion for their end-of-life care. In this way, conscience rights for medical professionals not only protect medical professionals and their patients, but they also protect our health care system.

Without conscience rights, doctors are constrained to provide, or refer their patients to receive, medical assistance in dying, regardless of whether it is their professional opinion that it is in the best interest of the patient. This concern for the patient’s best interest does not mean that a medical professional objects to medical assistance in dying in all cases, just that in his or her opinion it is not an option that should have to be offered in every case. This became especially pertinent to the medical community with the passage of Bill C-7.

To highlight the impact of the removal of the safeguard that death be reasonably foreseeable, I would like to quote from a recent column published online in Policy Options magazine which states the following:

Many injuries and physical illnesses are indeed accompanied by temporary depression and suicidal thinking. For example, research demonstrates increased risk of suicide for two years after a spinal cord injury. This suicidality overwhelmingly ends with adaptation and recovery support. Offering death to anyone during a period of transient increased suicidality is, in our view, unethical and violates the standard of medical care by which physicians must abide.

The fact that the newly expanded law may facilitate death in those circumstances of increased suicidal thinking is, in and of itself, problematic.

Some have tried to frame conscience rights as the rights of the patient versus the rights of the doctor. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Health care is fundamentally about the doctor-patient relationship. For example, take the psychiatrist who supports MAID in certain circumstances, but in a certain case has spent 15 years counselling a patient who suffers from bouts of depression and suicidality. For 15 years, they have built understanding and trust. What would happen if that patient, suffering from a bout of suicidality, should demand assisted suicide? Under current law, that psychiatrist would be forced to refer that patient to someone else so he or she could die. They must do this, despite knowing that the suicidal thoughts are temporary and that otherwise the patient is joyful and loves his or her life. Ending that patient's life would be wrong, but the psychiatrist’s hands are tied. This should not be what passes for medical care in Canada.

Some might claim that there are safeguards in place to prevent such tragedies, but I would ask them if they are absolutely sure. With the passage of Bill C-7, many safeguards for medical professionals were removed. We are talking about ending a human life. There is no room for uncertainty when a life hangs in the balance.

Additionally, should the first line of safeguards not be the expertise of the medical professionals who know their patients best? If those medical professionals do not believe death is the answer, should we not at least consider if they are right? However, this then leads to the concern some raise that protecting the conscience rights of medical professionals will block access to those who truly want it. I would suggest this is both misleading and nothing but baseless fearmongering. Medical assistance in dying and assisted suicide are readily available throughout all of Canada. There are information phone lines, hospitals staffed with willing medical professionals, even email addresses to help set up appointments. In a word, MAID has become the status quo. It is available.

The Canadian Medical Association also stated clearly that conscience protections would not affect access because there were more than enough physicians willing to offer MAID. Therefore, common sense should tell us that the charter rights of medical professionals are breached when they are forced to either offer or refer assisted suicide or medical assistance in dying. Surely, we have the capacity to both ensure access to MAID while still protecting the fundamental charter right to freedom of conscience.

Finally, some have suggested that medical professionals should leave their morality at the door. I do not believe we want this to happen. For example, we would all want and expect doctors to be bound by their morals if they were offered a bribe to move someone up on a waiting list. If we hold our medical professionals to a higher standard, we cannot then tell them to ignore their personal moral standards. Further, while discussing the issue of conscience rights with a doctor, she told me that, in the absence of conscience protection, the group with the most to lose are the patients, and they are the ones we are trying to help. This bill protects the doctor-patient relationship by ensuring that doctors and other medical professionals are always able to recommend and provide the care they believe is best for their patients. Patients need this bill to pass. Canada’s medical professionals need this bill to pass.

Over the past two years, we have seen just how important our health care system is and how critical the medical professionals who work in that system are to Canadians and our way of life. We need to create a work environment for medical professionals that protects them, supports them, and encourages them to continue in the critical work they do.

In closing, I encourage all members to support passage of the protection of freedom of conscience act.

Medical Assistance in DyingPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

March 23rd, 2022 / 3:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, the last petition I have to present today speaks directly to Bill C-230, protection of freedom of conscience act, which was introduced by the member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek. This petition comes from Canadians who are concerned about doctors and health care professionals who might be coerced to engage or support euthanasia or MAID. They want conscience rights and second opinions to be protected. The petitioners note that doctors deserve freedom of conscience, and they note how the Canadian Medical Association has confirmed this.

The petitioners are calling on the Parliament to enshrine in the Criminal Code the protection of conscience rights for physicians and health care workers from coercion or intimidation so that they do not have to provide or refer for assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Medical Assistance in DyingPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

February 14th, 2022 / 3:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, the next petition I have speaks directly to Bill C-230, the protection of freedom of conscience act, which is moved by my colleague, the member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek.

The petitioners from across Canada are concerned about doctors and health care professionals who might be coerced to engage in support of euthanasia or MAID, as they want conscience rights or second opinions to be protected. The petitioners note that doctors deserve freedom of conscience and note how the Canadian Medical Association confirmed that conscience protections would not limit access to assisted suicide. The petitioners are calling upon Parliament to enshrine in the Criminal Code the protection of conscience rights for physicians and health care workers from coercion or intimidation to provide or refer assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Protection of Freedom of Conscience ActRoutine Proceedings

February 4th, 2022 / 12:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-230, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (intimidation of health care professionals).

Mr. Speaker, over the past two years, we have seen just how important our health care system is and how critical the medical professionals who work in that system are to Canadians. We need to create a work environment for medical professionals that protects them, supports them and encourages them to continue in the critical work they do.

I rise today to introduce a private member's bill entitled the “Protection of Freedom of Conscience Act”. Medical professionals are facing increasing pressure to participate in assisted suicide, and this is causing many to question their ability to work here in Canada.

The bill proposes an amendment to the Criminal Code that would protect medical professionals from intimidation or coercion to participate in medically assisted suicide, in the same way that workers are protected from intimidation or coercion if they want to form or be part of a union.

I encourage all my colleagues to support this bill's speedy passage and thereby demonstrate their deep commitment both to our amazing medical professionals and to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)