[D]octors in two major cities made national headlines by denying medical care based on religious grounds.
A Calgary doctor working at a walk-in clinic who refused to prescribe contraception based on her personal beliefs posted a sign in the window informing patients “that the physician on duty today will not prescribe the birth control pill.” Women looking for the pill were instead provided with a list of other clinics willing to prescribe it.
Three family doctors in Ottawa were also refusing to provide artificial contraception in any form, including the “morning after pill.”
To put an end to this morass of conflicting moral and religious beliefs, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario announced Friday after a 21-3 vote that the personal opinions of a doctor may not hinder a patient’s access to care. Medical staff who refuse certain services, including the prescription of birth control, could face disciplinary consequences.
“You cannot kick someone out of your office without care,” said Dr. Marc Gabel, past president of the college and chairman of the policy’s working group.
That is not to say that doctors and nurses can be made to perform tasks that are against their conscience — except in a medical emergency:
The new Ontario policy forces doctors unwilling to provide certain care, such as prescriptions for contraception or referrals for an abortion, to refer patients to a “non-objecting, available and accessible physician or other health-care provider.”
In emergencies, doctors would have to provide the care themselves, regardless of their beliefs. According to a background document for physicians, the college says that could include administering life-saving blood transfusions or treating a woman for blood poisoning “caused by a botched abortion.”
“The referral requirement strikes an appropriate balance between patient and physicians’ rights, reflects the expectations of the Ontario public, and is consistent with other medical regulators in Canada,” said college president Dr. Carol Leet.
If I made an appointment with a doctor and, once there, received a referral for another medical professional based on the first doc’s religious or moral objections, I sure wouldn’t be pleased with the waste of my time. Physicians who decline to provide certain care should have to publicly disclose what they’re not willing to do — on their website and on clearly-placed signs in the reception area. That way, the rest of us can vote with our feet, and find a new doctor stat.
(Image via Shutterstock)