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Alberta Considers Denying Physician Conscience Rights

Thaddeus M. Baklinski,

CALGARY, Alberta, March 16, 2009 ( – The Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons (CPSA) is in the process of revising its Standards of Practice code and may be considering implementing a policy which would force physicians to refer patients for abortion, even if they believe this to be morally wrong.

The proposed changes are being debated this week and follow in the footsteps of similar code of conduct changes which were proposed but later rejected in Ontario last fall by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO). The controversial policy was abandoned by CPSO after vehement opposition was voiced by numerous concerned individuals, as well the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), which boasts a membership of 25,000. The OMA argued that the policy was an unacceptable violation of the freedoms of conscience and religion of physicians.

The contentious revision in Alberta’s proposed Health Professions Act falls under the heading of Termination of Pregnancy and Birth Control and states that (1) "Even if a physician’s religious or personal convictions prevent the physician from advising or offering care regarding birth control or termination of a pregnancy, the physician must ensure that the patient who seeks such advice or medical care is offered access to information and assistance in making an informed decision and access to available medical options."

The Protection of Conscience Project, a Canadian organization which advocates for protection of conscience legislation, has taken the CPSA to task over the proposed restriction of freedom of conscience.

In a submission to the CPSA, Project Administrator Sean Murphy said that, "Despite the fact that a ‘right’ to abortion cannot be found in existing international instruments, current rights claims are meant to force health care workers and institutions to provide or at least facilitate abortion, contraception, and artificial reproduction."

Murphy argued that "to demand that physicians provide or assist in the provision of procedures or services that they believe to be wrong is to treat them as means to an end and deprive them of their essential humanity."

Therefore, Murphy stated, "The draft Standards of Practice should be revised to ensure that the document cannot be used for this purpose."