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Supreme Court of Canada

Right to Refuse to Refer Patients to Physicians For Assisted Suicide?

Do Canadian doctors have a right to refuse to refer patients to physicians who will assist them to commit suicide?

The unanimous decision in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), released on February 6, 2015, drastically changed the landscape of Canadian law with respect to physician-assisted death (“PAD”).

The Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) set aside those provisions in the Criminal Code that criminalized PAD. The Carter decision specifically does not impose any obligation on doctors to participate in any way in PAD and leaves the balancing of patients’ and doctors’ rights to first be addressed by the legislature and regulating bodies. In its newly introduced legislation, Bill C-14, Prime Minister Trudeau’s Liberal government chose not to address the issue. The College of Physicians and Surgeons (the “College”) wants to impose an obligation on physicians to make referrals to patients seeking PAD.

In our article, Do Canadian doctors have a right to refuse to refer patients to physicians who will assist them to commit suicide,1 published in the Estates and Trusts Reports 17 E.T.R. (4th) 26 Charles Wagner and Aaron Pearl review the position taken by the College and assess whether imposing the obligation to refer patients out for PAD violates certain doctors’ freedom of conscience and religion which are guaranteed in the Charter. They conclude that imposing an obligation to make such a referral contravenes doctors’ religious freedoms in a manner that is not demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.

 

Charles Wagner and Aaron Pearl

The authors of this blog are Charles B. Wagner and Aaron Pearl. Charles is a Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts and partner at Wagner Sidlofsky LLP and Aaron was an associate. This Toronto office is a boutique litigation law firm whose practice is focused on estate and commercial litigation.

This blog is not intended to serve as a comprehensive treatment of the topic. It is not meant to be legal advice. Every case turns on its specific facts and it would be a mistake for the reader of this blog to conclude how it might impact on the reader’s case. Nothing replaces retaining a qualified, competent lawyer, well versed in this niche area of practice and getting some good legal advice.
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