November 16, 2019
Bill 207 puts personal beliefs of health care providers ahead of professional obligations to patients
Bill 207: Conscience Rights (Health Care Providers) Protection Act was introduced by Peace River MLA Dan Williams on November 7. After passing first reading, Bill 207 was referred to the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members Public Bills. On November 18th, this committee — comprised of 4 NDP and 7 UCP MLAs —will meet to determine if this bill has the merits to proceed for fulsome debate in the legislature.
This bill is a veiled attack on access to legal health care services such as abortion, gender affirming care, and Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID). If passed, Bill 207 will create major delays and barriers to people accessing medically necessary services in a province where access is already very difficult.
“This attempt to create legislation that would allow doctors and nurses to refuse to take part in legal health care services without repercussions is unconscionable in a health care system. It will ultimately hinder Albertans' ability to access safe and legal health services,” indicated Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare.
Currently, the right to deny care on the basis of conscience objection is already extended to all regulated health professions, including doctors, pharmacists, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, midwives, social workers, and many others. In the case of physicians, The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta has addressed this issue in the CPSA Standards of Practice, clarifying that while a provider has every right to decline to perform a service, they must respectfully and promptly provide a referral to a provider who is willing to perform the service and provide a resource with accurate information about all available medical options.
If the bill passes, physicians will no longer be required to make referrals for the services they deny. Further, the CPSA will be unable to discipline care deniers for “unprofessional conduct” and could not accept patient complaints about treatment refusals.
“Bill 207 eliminates the patient's right to effective referral and privileges religious health professionals above all others by providing them immunity from any harms that their denial of service will cause the patients,” said Melanie Anderson of the Alberta Pro-choice Coalition.
Under Bill 207, religious health care organizations would be able to deny care under claims of “conscience,” in contradiction to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which recognizes only individual rights, not collective rights. The bill would allow faith-based facilities to refuse any care that conflicts with their religious doctrine, and would not require them to provide referrals, options, or information.
“Bill 207 represents a grave threat to end-of-life rights in Alberta, and it must be stopped,” said Bradley Peter, a Dying with Dignity Canada board member and co-chair of the charity’s Edmonton chapter. “People who request MAID are some of the most vulnerable, physically compromised patients in our public health care system. To deny them even the most basic information about MAID and a referral to a willing provider is akin to patient abandonment.”
This bill should be voted down at committee level. Our legislators have an ethical responsibility to uphold sexual and reproductive health and rights in Alberta, and a legal responsibility to ensure access to health services for all Albertans. We cannot allow dogma and ideology to determine what health services Albertans can and cannot access. We need all MLAs to respect, uphold and protect Albertans' rights by voting down Bill 207.
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