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Waiting for the doctor: Some physicians are refusing to write birth-control prescriptions. (REUTERS)
Waiting for the doctor: Some physicians are refusing to write birth-control prescriptions. (REUTERS)

THE CONVERSATION

July 5: This week’s Talking Point – refusing to treat – and letters to the editor Add to ...

When a doctor cites religious values for refusing to prescribe certain treatments, whose rights should be paramount? The doctor’s? The patient’s? Readers, print and digital, put medical ethics under the microscope

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Denial of access to reproductive health care should be treated the same as a denial of other basic health-care treatments. Access to birth control is vital for the health of many women. Moreover, medical professionals are part of national public services, and should be held to the same standard as other public service professionals. Can a police officer choose when to apply the law, or choose to withhold it? Denial of medical treatment – any medical treatment – is discrimination. Why is this still a debate?

Sarah Pittman, Lethbridge, Alta.

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When did “doctor” become synonymous with “slave”? Because someone chooses to help others, they should not lose their basic human rights.

Tim Stratton, Ottawa

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Explain how a service funded by the public at large would hire a doctor who refuses to treat the public at large? A walk-in-clinic knows who its clientele is.

Jim Houston, Oakville, Ont.

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Patients seeking to refill prescriptions for contraceptives from doctors who refuse on religious grounds to assist should be granted a temporary privilege to self-prescribe. This is not a perfect solution, of course, but it should at least remind the medical profession that their monopoly over drug prescription is a privilege, not a divine right.

Patrick Cowan, Toronto

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I find it outrageous that doctors can refuse to provide services which are explicitly contemplated by provincial health ministries’ fee schedules – but I also recognize that thrashing out this issue is going to take considerable time.

In the interim, we have to accept that, at least for the time being, this conduct is a reality, so it behooves the various Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons to adopt a proper regulatory structure around this, in place of vague exhortations to be respectful and transparent.

(Let’s face it: If those doctors respected their patients’ right to have their own values and beliefs, they wouldn’t be withholding services in the first place.)

Some suggestions for that framework: Colleges need to consider implementing a two-tier registration system, with those doctors who refuse to provide particular services comprising a separate class of registrant; every doctor whose intention is not to provide particular services must have a formal, written referral arrangement with one or more other doctors who have agreed to provide those services; a copy of each referral agreement must be filed with the college.

Susan Cantlie, Toronto

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Doctors must fulfill all aspects of the health-care system that are offered to patients.

They are paid by taxpayers to carry out any and all procedures offered.

Pierce Collier, Milltown, N.B.

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I have no personal issue with birth control but in a time where we’re saying everyone has the right to choose and to personal beliefs, let doctors be. Choose to go to another doctor.

Lucia Mendonca, Calgary

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Where does it all end? Can a Muslim doctor refuse to treat a Jew? How about refusing the LGBT community? Can a Jehovah’s Witness doctor refuse to order blood transfusions for a hemorrhaging patient? Can a Catholic doctor or hospital refuse to prescribe the morning-after pill to a raped trauma patient?

If religious freedom comes in conflict with professional duties, it cannot limit someone’s medical rights, ever. Leave the profession to people who understand the enormous responsibility of administering all medically allowed care, to which all patients are entitled, in a timely manner, free from discrimination. If one is not able to distinguish religious freedom from discrimination, it is time to leave the profession.

Robyn Fosbury, RN, Toronto

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Certain professions are under greater public scrutiny due to their great responsibility in maintaining the basic fabric of our society. They do not have the choice to abandon professional responsibility to the public in favour of religious sentiment. What they do have is the choice to seek another profession.

Ed Northcott, Kitchener, Ont.

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Konrad Yakabuski writes: “Religion is once again re-entering spheres of public life and institutions where it had been banished or forgotten decades ago.”

The West, he says, is “again struggling to establish the right balance between freedom of religion and freedom from religion.” He tell us that “many GPs even refuse to refer patients seeking reproductive health services” (Does Doc’s Religion Trump Your Prescription? – July 3). So is religion re-entering the public sphere – or has it never left?

Conscience rights belong to all, but it is imperative that they be safeguarded in health care. Abortion and euthanasia are obvious, but what if a physician is asked to perform female circumcision on a seven-year-old?

Would a shortage of easily obtained procedures and prescriptions be worse than a shortage of doctors, the result of totalitarianism? Even in 2014, Canadians need to defend conscience rights across the West. It’s protection from the state we need, not from some religion.

Johanne Brownrigg, Ottawa

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I am very concerned about the “choice” given to doctors in regard to choosing what/whom to treat. It is a dangerous route to travel. When does the doctor’s choice collide with my right to medical treatment? Is the next step: I do not want to treat fill-in-the-blank? Old? Visible minority? HIV-positive? Female? Unwed teen? Universal access to health care should be exactly that. For everyone. In any circumstance. No exceptions. Not negotiable.

Dorota Smith, Parksville, B.C.

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A letter writer says: My “religious values” include having doctors treat all patients, not just the ones whose values coincide with their own.” Would she be in favour of forcing doctors to participate in public executions in states that have the death penalty?

Anita Dermer, Toronto

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If you’re a doctor, that is your religion and your Hippocratic Oath should supersede all superstitions and prejudices.

Michael Gordon James Wakely, Vancouver

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ON REFLECTION Letters to the editor

‘Freaking’ in Ontario

Re Ontario’s Spending Spree Comes Amid Deficit Warning (July 4): Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa may believe that all is well and “the bankers aren’t freaking” over the looming prospect of a $12.5-billion deficit and a Moody’s credit-rating reduction – but the province’s taxpayers certainly are.

Walter Tedman, Kingston

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Read the decision

As a Canada Day gift to myself, I sat with my morning coffee and read the Supreme Court’s recent land-title decision (available on the court’s website).

It is brilliantly written. In simple language anyone can understand, the court traces the development of the law on aboriginal title through the landmark rulings of recent decades.

It should be required reading for every high school student because it so clearly demonstrates how the rule of law operates in a constitutional democracy. Maybe it should be required reading for PMs, too.

Kathleen Keating, Vancouver

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To Save $150,000?

Re Tories Deny Shifting TPP Talks To Ottawa To Stymie Protests (July 4): If you believe that the federal government shifted the venue for trade talks to Ottawa to save taxpayers $150,000 – and not to avoid public protest in Vancouver – then you probably also believe that $50-million for new gazebos was well spent in Muskoka for border security when Stephen Harper hosted the G8 summit.

David Wood, Mildmay, Ont.

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Do right by Toronto

I sympathize with Rob Ford’s addiction problems and truly hope he succeeds in overcoming them (Under The Influence – letters, July 4).

There are, however, many people in his situation who don’t feel they should be mayor of a major city. Mr. Ford should resign. If he can show he is sincere about getting on top of his addiction, he can try to remake his political career in a few years. It is naive of him to think that two months in rehab and another apology will get rid of the bad taste his antics have left in the public’s mouth.

Vivienne Utriainen, Toronto

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