Originally published as “Do No Harm” in the Jul/Aug 2016 issue of Faith Today. Republished by permission.

Bruce J. Clemenger

Bruce J. Clemenger

Imagine growing up with a passion for helping people get well – a gift of healing, some might call it. You are fascinated by medicine and helping people live well.

We all know someone like that – a relative, a friend or perhaps you.

You study and train, and become a nurse or a doctor. Then imagine being told helping people commit suicide will now be part of your duties. You know this would be entirely opposite to your gifting and calling.

You see your work as an act of worship to God and a fulfilment of His command to love and care for those who are sick and near death. You have committed to “do no harm” as stated in the Hippocratic Oath – but now you will be required to kill.

We say we live in a free society. And yet some of our neighbours whose life’s calling is to heal and restore are being told if they want to keep their job, they must participate in killing people.

The Canadian Medical Association says only about a third of their members are willing to participate in assisted suicide.

Some are willing to refer to another who will kill but do not want to directly participate. But many who object to assisted suicide and euthanasia believe they should not be required to provide an effective referral. For them it would be no different than writing a prescription for the procedure.

In the medical world referral means the doctor agrees the procedure is in the best interest of the patient and consistent with their commitment to “do no harm.”

The EFC and other groups have pressed hard for clear protections for those who object on conscientious and religious grounds to participating in assisted suicide. A coalition was formed – the Coalition for HealthCare and Conscience – for the sole purpose of protecting the freedoms of medical professionals and heath care institutions.

No other jurisdiction in the world that allows assisted suicide or euthanasia requires medical professionals to participate. Yet there is strong resistance to providing this basic protection in Canada. Why?

There are conscience-respecting ways of connecting patients with willing doctors and nurses – models have been developed and proposed.

Far better for Parliament to ensure protection by making it a Criminal Code offense to coerce someone to act contrary to their beliefs. Or protection could be written into the assisted dying legislation by adding a guarantee that participation be voluntary.

Parliamentarians know at least one professional college of physicians and surgeons (Ontario – the largest) is already compelling the unwilling by requiring an effective referral. Yet so far attempts to include strong protection have failed.

It can be argued that requiring all to participate is simple and convenient. Refusing to accommodate real differences is always easier.

But we live in a religiously plural society where the freedoms of some will conflict with the convictions of others. Otherwise we are no longer plural in any meaningful sense and the meaning of freedom is empty.

Compelling some to participate in killing another is incompatible with life in a free society.

Perhaps a deeper motive for compelling the unwilling is to guarantee and solidify this radical change – force those who disagree to capitulate or leave. Many are uncomfortable with the act, and eliminating those most opposed from the profession and making all others complicit will erode resistance. Can it really be wrong if we all participate?

It seems inevitable that “do no harm” will no longer be the unifying and clarion call of medicine. But will a plurality of views and approaches be tolerated within the health care system? Or will what has now become legal be the new morality from which dissent will not be tolerated?

For centuries most health care systems have been animated by core beliefs in keeping with – and often arising directly from – Christian faith. We are on the verge of forcing out many who are deeply committed to the sanctity of human life. Without adequate protection federally the battle for religious freedom and conscience will be fought provincially and territorially. We need to take a stand for the freedom of medical professionals to heal and not kill, and for the ability of health care institutions, including faith-based ones, to honour that same mission and purpose.

Bruce J. Clemenger is president of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Please pray for our work. You can follow us on Twitter @theEFC and support us financially at or toll-free 1-866-302-3362.

One comment on “Will medical professionals really be required to kill?

  • Some scenarios I fear with medically-assisted suicide in Canada:

    1) People under the age of 18 with terminal (or potentially terminal) conditions will challenge the current legislation in court arguing that it denies them the “dignity” of medically-assisted suicide that is afforded to people over 18 and is therefore discriminatory. It will start with someone who is 16 or 17 with a terminal condition who argues that the age limit causes undue suffering by making the individu…al wait until they are 18 to get “relief” from their suffering. Younger children will follow. (Don’t think it won’t happen. They euthanize children in Europe and the Canadian Bar Association is pushing for it in Canada!)

    2) A patient with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) that is refractory to treatment (chemical, ECT, therapy, etc.) and who has made multiple attempts to commit suicide on their own will successfully argue that they have a “grievous and irremediable medical condition” which will ultimately result in their death. Mental health advocates have long argued that mental health conditions need to be treated with the same respect, dignity and seriousness as medical conditions. They will now challenge the current legislation in court arguing that it denies them the “dignity” of medically-assisted suicide that is afforded to people with medical conditions and is therefore discriminatory. (Part of the criteria in the legislation: “…illness, disease or disability or that state of decline causes them enduring physical or PSYCHOLOGICAL suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable.”)

    3) If a precedent is set in point # 2 above, there will be challenges to legislation that allows hospitals to hold (aka “commit people” in layman’s terms) who pose a serious risk of harm to themselves (i.e. suicide attempt or credible suicide threat).

    4) If someone in prison for a long sentence and has no close family ties is diagnosed with cancer, what motivation do they have to even try to fight it. They will choose medically-assisted suicide on day 1.

    5) Prisoners whose long sentence means they will die a “natural death” in prison will request medically-assisted suicide on both the grounds of “PSYCHOLOGICAL suffering that is intolerable to them” and that they are saving the taxpayers money by making the request. (Consider the Frank Van Den Bleeken case in Belgium – which is only on hold due to a “technicality”.)

    6) Sidebar: Belgium had over 1,800 cases of medically-assisted suicide in 2013; of these, 67 were for psychological reasons (in a population of 11,000,000). Translate that into Canadian numbers, and that would be over 5,700 cases per year – with over 213 for psychological reasons).”

    I found this article – which confirmed some of my fears:

    Btw…The College of Nurses of Ontario also requires nurses to refer patients to a physician who may be able to provide medically-assisted suicide if the patient or their family asks them. Nurses are also not allowed to disclose that we are conscientious objectors.

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