From conception to cremation, Bill 207 could deny wide range of services

Anyone who lives in a remote rural area knows the frustration and potential danger of being unable to get immediate emergency medical services. Now imagine if the only emergency physician in town refused to help because you don’t attend his church. Bill 207 gives such gatekeeping authority, with the power to affect all Albertans, from conception to cremation.

According to backbencher UCP MLA Dan Williams, Bill 207 is needed to ensure the Charter-protected fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion held by health-care providers so that they ”never have to choose between their most deeply held convictions on one side and their jobs on the other.”

Indeed, Section 1(c) of Bill 207 defines “conscientious beliefs” to mean “the beliefs of the health-care provider or religious health-care organization that are protected as fundamental freedoms under section 2(a) of the Charter, including religious beliefs, moral and ethical values and cultural traditions.”

Under Bill 207, which also changes the Alberta Human Rights Act to include conscientious beliefs, any medical practitioners, students, interns, therapists or religious health-care organizations that claim your religious or life choices offend their own religious beliefs, moral or ethical values, or cultural traditions, will be able to refuse services, regardless of the condition or urgency — with impunity. The bill includes taking away your ability to make a complaint.

Bill 207 applies to members of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta — which includes practitioners of virtually every medical specialization that deals with people’s physical, mental and psychosocial conditions, and with health-related research, education and administration.

Bill 207’s vast reach is surprising: It applies to more than 30 categories of medical and mental health practitioners who provide elective, medically necessary and lifesaving treatments. The list is long and includes emergency, primary and critical care paramedics; midwives, chiropractors, podiatrists, psychologists and psychiatrists; lab, respiratory, ultrasound and X-ray technologists; pharmacists, physiotherapists and physical therapists; opticians and optometrists; dieticians and nutritionists; anesthesiologists, surgeons, and social workers; audiologists, dental professionals and speech-language pathologists.

Every one of Alberta’s 38,000 nurses, occupational health nurses and nurse practitioners (who might be the only health-care provider in the region) will be able to claim “conscience rights” and refuse to treat patients — with impunity.

Suffering from COPD or alcoholism? Your teen daughter was raped and wants an abortion? Want a vasectomy, tubal ligation, birth control, or the morning after pill? Want to be tested for a sexually transmitted disease? Your clothing reflects beliefs that differ from those held by your doctor? In all those cases, Bill 207 allows treatment to be refused by everyone licensed to practice any sort of medicine — with impunity.

Suffering from PTSD because you served as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces and were sent to a war zone? Psychologists, psychiatrists and other therapists who believe war is wrong could refuse treatment — with impunity.

Accidentally get stuck with a needle while trying to help a homeless person or while helping with an abortion and you are worried about HIV? Emergency services personnel will be able to deny treatment and jeopardize your life — with impunity.

Feeling suicidal because you’re struggling with your sexuality or gender identity? Social workers, therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists could refuse treatment — with impunity.

Prefer not to endure a prolonged, painful death and want to have a legal, medically assisted death? If that treatment violates the policy of the only medical facility in your region, you could face a long and gruesome future when MAID is denied — with impunity.

Bill 207 is much more than a way to honour medical practitioners’ beliefs. Practitioners who refuse to treat will only have to suggest obtaining services elsewhere, without being obligated to identify who can provide the services. If you don’t like the refusal, then you cannot complain, and it is legislated that such action is not unethical or unprofessional.

Albertans should be grateful that the bill only talks about denying service because of one’s conscience. Albertans will be in a much more precarious position if the government allows practitioners to perform services that align with their personal beliefs — which would open the gates to decisions based on cultural “honour,” female genital mutilation and other “procedures” that have, thus far, been considered to be inconsistent with Canadian beliefs, moral or ethical values, or cultural traditions.

Reprinted from the Calgary Herald. November 14, 2019

Sharon Polsky is a member of the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association.

This entry was posted in Access to Justice, Democratic Rights, Economic Rights, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Religion, Fundamental Human Rights, Rule of Law. Bookmark the permalink.

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