Do you smell smoke?

There is a good chance that in our generation things could change significantly for the worse  for Christians.

What does it tell us, that a number of things now happening in Canada would only a short time ago have seemed the idiosyncratic fantasies of people (we all know some) with hyperactive imaginations? But we see from the news that these things are not fantasies.

That the law societies of three provinces would refuse admission to graduates of Trinity Western University, effectively barring them  from practicing law in those provinces, for hailing from a school that enshrines a student moral standard drawn from Christian tradition (though it does not bar gays from TWU) – this comes as a bit of a shock.

That the Canadian Medical Association and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of at least two provinces are testing out a policy that could drive Christians out of not just women’s health but family medicine was unimaginable not too long ago, when the notion of the Christian doctor simply inspired confidence.

If the things just mentioned sound like figments of a fevered mind, I direct you to a quite level-headed summation by Albertos Polizogopoulos, an Ottawa lawyer not inclined to ranting and raving (habits of very little use to lawyers in the public eye).

Just imagine for a moment: what steps would Canada first have to take, before it could reach the point of pushing Christian doctors out of women’s health – which, just to be clear, is a proposal already broached in high places in the medical profession. In the US, Dr. Julie Cantor, writing as both an MD and a Doctor of Law in the highly respected New England Journal of Medicine, argued,

As the gatekeepers to medicine, physicians and other health care providers have an obligation to choose specialties that are not moral minefields for them. Qualms about abortion, sterilization, and birth control? Do not practice women’s health.

In Canada, consider an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (4 July 2006) titled “Abortion: Ensuring Access,” which declared that

health care professionals who … fail to provide appropriate referrals [i.e., fail to send patients who seek abortions to doctors who can assist them] … are committing malpractice and risk lawsuits and disciplinary proceedings.

Here in Ontario, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario drafted a policy proposal in 2008 that warned,

there will be times when it may be necessary for physicians to set aside their personal beliefs in order to ensure that patients or potential patients are provided with the medical treatment and services they require. Physicians should be aware that decisions to restrict medical services offered … based on moral or religious belief may contravene the Code, and/or constitute professional misconduct.

The revision in 2014 did not back away from this:

Where physicians choose to limit the health services they provide for moral or religious reasons, this may impede access to care resulting in a violation of patient rights under the Charter and the Code…. While the Charter entitles physicians to limit the health services they provide on moral or religious grounds, this cannot impede, either directly or indirectly, access to care for existing patients…. Where physicians are unwilling to provide certain elements of care due to their moral or religious beliefs, an effective referral to another health care provider must be provided to the patient.

In 2009 the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta said much the same thing to doctors with compunctions about involvement in abortion: “as a physician, and a medical professional,” wrote Dr. Trevor Theman, now President-Elect of the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada, you must set your compunctions aside and be directed by your patient’s standard of “well-being.” “You must also, as professionals, resolve conflicts of interest in the best interest of patients” – which is to say, by the patient’s estimation.

Obviously we are quite a few steps away from a ban on Christians in any branch of medicine. To get rather closer to that, the medical profession would first have to

•  signal the problem: Christian doctors who claim themselves morally unable, as Dr. Cantor put it, “to be neutral arbiters of medical care” – (well, that signal has been sent),
  and then it would have to get this message out to Canadians – (that is now underway, in articles I have seen in the papers),
•  and then it would have to set measures equipped to make Christian doctors ‘do their job’ (the thrust of the CPSO draft policy) – (measures just issued).

These are not steps yet to be taken: these are deeds being done.

What will happen next: could some sort of de-facto barrier to Christians in medicine actually follow?

We can predict, I think, that many Christian doctors (maybe most, if they have the integrity they claim) will not be influenced by these measures and will take the increasingly hard wrist-slaps delivered by their profession, while others will indeed get out of  these areas of medicine (as they promise to do if they cannot practice there as Christians, in accord with the voice of conscience – which they rightly count no trifling matter). At some point down this road it will likely seem practical, in the eyes of those entrusted with the task of governing medicine so that Canadians get the best care, to say … – and let’s just anticipate the language of the press-release:

‘Patients need assurance that the standard of care is unwavering. We have stepped forward today to guarantee  to Canadians that every practitioner of medicine  will be morally able to provide  every medical service permitted under the law, so that no citizen in need of contraceptives, abortion referrals, etc.’

Will that fly, do you think?

And let’s just explain what this paradise will entail: every Canadian physician who has a conscientious objection, being morally unwilling to participate, even potentially, in killing an innocent human being, would by such reassuring words be banned from the profession. The day could come when such an announcement could be both made and pretty widely accepted.

For a glimpse at how such things are playing out in the legal profession, read Mr. Polizogopoulos’ article. Consider the fact, which he reports, that over seventy (70, no less) major corporations (‘major’  to the tune of BMO, RBC, Home Depot, Bell, Xerox, MasterCard) will not hire any law firm that does not have a commitment to “diversity” and “inclusiveness.”

And at this point let’s segue to the future impact of that declaration upon hiring  within law firms. Hadley Arkes, a prominent American lawyer who is a professor of political science at Amherst College in Massachusetts, explains this via the story of a friend: a senior partner in “one of the most prestigious law firms in New York” who voiced his doubt that a ban on all discrimination based on sexual orientation would be good. When his thoughts found their way into a lawyers’ trade paper this man, senior partner or not, was barred by his firm from participation in hiring. “And we can set out the rationale,” says Arkes. If a firm has  a senior partner with a moral objection to homosexuality,

the complaint can be lodged that the situation is … tilted against the associate who is gay or lesbian. The very presence in the firm of partners with a moral judgement against homosexuality means that there is already, from the beginning, a condition that makes possible the filing of a grievance, and following from that some vexing and expensive litigation…. Law firms are nothing if not responsive to incentives and if the notion takes hold that the very presence in the firm  of people with rather pronounced moral and religious views on homosexuality makes the firm deeply vulnerable to litigation, many firms will find an incentive to foreclose the problem at the very threshold by the simple expedient of avoiding the hiring of people,  shall we say, who are ‘overly religious’.

One hesitates to give the champions of ‘inclusiveness’ any bright ideas but people can think for themselves. This, says Arkes, will just make perfect sense.

Mr. Polizogopoulos noted that the moves we see here – an active and evident willingness to get Christians into a box at some distance from the machinery of public welfare – has been encouraged by the passivity  of Christians, who have looked to be “unwilling to stand up for our constitutional rights.” I agree with him, and here want to join him in pointing out that there is smoke in the air.

A match has already been put to institutions, benefits, and privileges that Christians have taken for granted as givens, sacrosanct things that no one can touch.

Well, what eventually burns to the ground, so to speak, depends on whether people actually do something about the smoke they smell (or don’t smell) – whether people do something about  that small flame smoldering in some corner of, likely, someone else’s yard. I am neither a doctor nor a lawyer and could easily just shrug my shoulders at the facts itemized by Mr. Polizogopoulos. Or I could claim to ‘care’ and cry out indignantly that ‘We have a right  to freedom of conscience! How dare they  etc.!’ Easy to do and quite enjoyable to boot: my high horse gives a nice ride. But it would be utterly foolish to stand still making such objections, as if to notify the other side, as if the people with the matches were going to put this fire out.

They have, by the way things look from their yard, a very good reason for starting it. So it is our move.

Edward Tingley

For more on the Trinity Western University case, see
Is ‘respect for identity’ a fundamental value?

SOURCES                                               

Hadley Arkes, “The Question of Marriage,” lecture at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C., 8 October 2004 – listen to part 1, from around 37:13

Julie D. Cantor, M.D., J.D., “Conscientious Objection Gone Awry: Restoring Selfless Professionalism in Medicine,” New England Journal of Medicine  360:15 (9 April 2009), 1484-85

College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario,  “Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code,” (2008), consulted August 2008.

College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, “Draft: Professional Obligations and Human Rights,” (2014).

Albertos Polizogopoulos, “Christian Lawyers and Doctors Need Not Apply,” The Cardus Daily (9 January 2015)

Sanda Rodgers and Jocelyn Downie, “Abortion: Ensuring Access,” Guest Editorial, Canadian Medical Association Journal 175:1 (4 July 2006)

Dr. Trevor Theman, “Registrar’s Report: Draft Standard for Termination of Pregnancy,” The Messenger, College of Physicians and Surgeons of  Alberta (April 2009), 3

4 Comments

  1. Sarah Rhein says:

    Let’s not forget the British midwives. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11298385/Catholic-midwives-lose-Supreme-Court-case-over-objection-to-abortions.html
    and
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/17/catholic-midwives-abortion-ruling-overturned

    Intolerance of Christianity is only increasing, even among Christians. Even less “rigid” (read “less orthodox”) Christians are increasingly unsympathetic to their more conscientious counterparts. It’s even said openly, and I’ve heard it – “If you have a problem with this, then you need to do something else.” From a business standpoint, I get this attitude; If you can’t fulfill the requirements of your job description, then you shouldn’t be working in that position. But no one is acknowledging that the job description has changed without provision for able practitioners with a narrower scope (exclusion of life-ending modalities). I pray that Christians may not soon find themselves in a situation of earlier Christians where seeking Obstetric/Gynecologic care might be similar to seeking the aid of pagan healers. It sounds ridiculous, but I have an urgent sense that Christians need to develop an alternative healthcare system, and soon.

  2. Nancy Craig says:

    Thank you for this. This blog has been quiet for a long time… I have been wondering how to put my thoughts together to make a submission to the CPSO (not my province of practice), and this has helped get me closer to getting a submission made.
    I do fear for the next generation of physicians – and for my generation, who will be the elderly in their care in the not too distant future!

  3. David Mck says:

    This article is interesting and punchy, thank you for sharing it Edward. At the beginning I thought “are we talking a ride on the slippery slope here?”, but, I can see that this is not the case, and I like the way the article pokes fun at the end (the high horse).
    Medical issues and scientific advancements are very difficult for Christians to deal with. They are also difficult for non-Christians. Margaret Somerville’s book “The Ethical Canary” looks at many of these issues from a secular and pluralist perspective, and, I think, makes some good comments, which could resonate with Christians asking the question: what should we do in a society that is becoming anti-religious in law and medicine? She basically argues that the scientific advancements we have made far outstretch our legal system and ethical capacity to handle them (for example, in situations where women are able to preserve tissue from an unborn child to prolong their own fertility – a medical advancement that we have never had to deal with before), and she advocates for a system in which polar opposite viewpoints find areas of overlap, in order to resolve dispute and inform legislation. She once gave a guest lecture at my University out east where she made the case for pro-lifers on the basis of gendercide in China and India. The argument goes something like this: radical feminists and right wing Christians are two opposing groups, especially in the case of pro-choice vs pro-life, however, in the case of gendercide (where families in Asia abort female children and do not abort males) radical feminists find themselves in the same camp as pro-life Christians- they are against abortion. This overlapping, Somerville argues, is the key way in which we can resolve many of the tensions we’re facing today.
    In any case, there is lots to think about here. Thank you again!

  4. Karen Meza says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It concerns me greatly when “we” are passive and do not present a unified front. I find my greatest struggle to be convincing fellow Christians that there is smoke.

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