A challenge to a policy that physicians provide referrals despite objecting to a service based on conscience or religion

On March 24, 2015, two Christian groups, and several physicians, filed a challenge to a policy of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (Policy #2-15) which permits physicians to limit services for reasons of conscience or religion, but requires that they provide an “effective referral” to another health-care provider. An effective referral means a referral to a “non-objecting, available, and accessible physician, other health-care professional, or agency”. The policy expresses the College’s expectation that physicians “proactively maintain an effective referral plan for the frequently requested services they are unwilling to provide.” The policy also states that physicians “must provide care in an emergency, where it is necessary to prevent imminent harm, even where that care conflicts with their conscience or religious beliefs.”

The claimant groups and physicians assert violations of freedom of religion (section 2(a)) and equality rights (section 15) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We may see more of these types of challenges when new laws relating to assisted suicide come into place, and regulators set standards of practice which, among other things, ensure access to assisted suicide.

The complete policy may be found here.

The Notice of Application challenging the policy is posted on the website of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada here.

Lisa Fong and Michael Ng