The Ontario Liberals’ rejection of amendments to its assisted suicide legislation leaves MPP Jeff Yurek “very disappointed” but not defeated as the Conservative prepares to introduce a private member’s bill to protect conscience rights for doctors and health care workers.
On May 18, the Conservative’s bill will be brought forward to the legislature for an evaluation of the pros and cons. While Yurek expects scrutiny similar to that which faced Bill 84 amendments, he’s still hopeful to garner support from the majority of his political peers, including
But that will require the votes of Liberal MPPs, who Yurek hopes will be influenced by their conscience and not the will of party leaders.
“We proposed amendments in committee and obviously the Liberal side got direction from head office to vote against it which was four or five members,” the MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London said at a press conference May 3. “This bill is going to legislator, all 175 members will be present, and hopefully all the Liberal members will have the freedom of their own conscience to vote on this legislator.”
Swaying support requires pressure from the public, he added.
“It (demands) getting this issue out into the public and having the public pressure the government, not only the premier and cabinet but also the entire back bench, the third part and our part of sort,” he said. “To let them know that this is a vital concern of theirs, that they would like to see protection of conscience rights and freedoms in our country and to ensure that they vote in support of legislation that represents the will of people in the ridings that they serve and not the will of the head office of their party.”
Joining Yurek for his press conference was Dr. Rachel Forman, who spoke on behalf of the Ontario Medical Association. Forman said that the issue of medial assistance in dying (MAID) is as a “challenging issue for the medical community as it is for society” and noted the Supreme Court of Canada’s desire for governments to support the conscience rights of physicians.
“Several physician groups and other health care stakeholders joined the Ontario Medical Association in asking for an amendment to protect physicians who are conscientious objectors from being obligated from having to participate in the medical assistance in dying process,” she said. “Despite this the government did not approve supporting amendments, clearly stating that physicians have a right to conscientious objection.”
Currently health care professionals who refuse to refer patients for the assisted suicide are left vulnerable to penalization and punishment through the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Yurek proposes that instead of penalties health care works need resources when exercising a conscientious objection which would allow them to redirect patients without compromising their own morals
“The protection of conscience rights and the self-referral system run by the government fit hand in glove, provide the balance and ensure patient access to Medical Assistance in Dying,” he said.
Larry Worthen, the executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society as well as a spokesperson for the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience which represents about 15,000 physicians in Ontario, also expressed a desire for conscience to prevail over party loyalty within the Legislative Assembly.
“This should not be partisan politics,” he said. “The parties should all allow their MPPs to vote according to the conscience on this one. It seems ironic that we need a conscience vote on conscience.”
Yurek stressed the need to balance the rights of citizens, physicians and civil servants.
“Balance is needed,” he said. “My bill will provide that balance by making participation voluntary ensuring healthcare professionals cannot be disciplined, fined or censored by their college for refusing to participate either directly or indirectly in Medical Assistance in Dying. My hope is that the Liberal government will allow a free vote in the legislator when this bill is debated