Day 1: Court challenge to the CPSO's policy of effective referral for assisted dying

Dying With Dignity Canada is headed back to court this week as interveners in the court challenge to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s (CPSO) effective referral policy.

The Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada (CMDS), the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies, Canadian Physicians for Life, and five individual physicians launched the challenge in June 2016. Court proceedings officially began on Tuesday, June 13.

On the first day of hearings, the coalition of anti-choice doctors that launched the challenge delivered their arguments. They argued that the CPSO’s policy — which requires physicians who oppose assisted dying to refer patients who request it to a provider or agency who can help — contravenes their right to freedom of religion and conscience under the Canadian Charter.

They want the court to eliminate the part of the College’s policy that requires physicians to make referrals “in good faith, to a non-objecting, available and accessible physician, other health-care professional or agency.” Along with medical assistance in dying, other health services under the microscope are abortion and contraception.

Counsel for the CMDS spoke on Tuesday, along with two interveners in support of their position — the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms and B'Nai Brith of Canada League for Human Rights. Two more interveners for the applicants are scheduled to speak on Wednesday, June 14.

Following those arguments, the College is also expected to make its case on Wednesday. In a press release, the CPSO says it will “vigorously [defend] patients’ rights to access care.”

“We believe that our policies balance patients’ rights to access all health services with any physician’s conscience or religious beliefs,” said CPSO President Dr. David Rouselle. “Although an effective referral does not guarantee a patient will receive a treatment, it ensures access to care and demonstrates respect for patient autonomy.”

As interveners in the case, Dying With Dignity Canada’s lawyers will make oral arguments in court on Thursday, June 15 in support of the CPSO’s position. (You can read our written submission in the case here.)

"We continue to support CPSO's role in regulating professional physicians in the public's interest," said Dying With Dignity Canada's CEO Shanaaz Gokool. "Effective referrals must be the minimum standard to ensure that the most vulnerable patients — those with limited mobility and communication abilities — have access to a peaceful death."

Court hearings for the case will run from June 13 to 15. Check back daily for updates on the case!

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