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Saskatchewan doctors could face discipline over assisted suicide

Watch above: Bryan Salte with the Saskatchewan College of Physicians and Surgeons explains how the recent Supreme Court of Canada assisted suicide ruling will affect doctors in the province.

SASKATOON – Doctors in the province who refuse to cooperate with physician-assisted suicide could face discipline according to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan.

“If a physician feels the directives are wrong, they will still, we would expect, they will still follow those directives,” said Bryan Salte, associate registrar of the college, “in spite of the fact they may not agree with them.”

While the college has not come up with policies around assisted suicide, it is circulating a draft policy on conscientious refusal. It says while doctors can refuse to provide a legally provided service if it violates their freedom of conscience, they do have to make a referral to another health care provider who will do it.

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That means a doctor who believes suicide is wrong would still have to refer a patient to a doctor who would help them kill themselves.

“Certainly with any physician we try to work with them to see if there is any mutually acceptable solution,” said Salte. “But if there are physicians who engage in behavior which is regarded as unacceptable or unprofessional then that is a possible outcome,” he said.

That could become a problem for doctors who want nothing to do with killing a patient.

Dr. Philip Fitzpatrick, a Saskatoon family doctor and ER physician, says physician assisted suicide flies in the face of a doctors’ commitment not to cause harm to patients.

“This is a bit of a red line because as physicians we’re not supposed to be partaking in anything that might harm our patients,” he told Global News on Tuesday. “Definitely for me participating in an assisted suicide would be harming my patient – even a referral for that would make me culpable for that.”

READ MORE: Saskatoon doctor worried about Supreme Court assisted suicide ruling

Salte admits coming up with a compromise is going to be difficult.

“There’s a broad range of beliefs out there, there’s a broad range of perspectives out there,” he said. “What the draft policy talks about is a compromise between the extreme position.”

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A week ago, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law prohibiting physician assisted suicide in Canada – but left a one year ban in place to give groups like the college time to put rules in place. Salte adds if Ottawa comes up with a law in the meantime, doctors will be expected to follow it.

READ MORE: Supreme Court strikes down Canada’s assisted suicide laws

“There’s a lot of consultation that is going on,” he said. “I was just as a national meeting, and that was a fairly significant subject associated with it.”

Fitzpatrick said he has talked to a number of doctors who are troubled by the ruling.

“Admittedly there is debate on life issues,” he said. “But once you look at this policy, once I’ve discussed it with my colleagues there is almost universal disagreement about this, this is definitely a bad idea for physicians.”

Salte says this has been one of the more difficult issues the college has had to deal with.

“Anytime you have people who believe very strongly ethically about certain issues and certainly we’ve dealt with that with birth control, we’ve dealt with that with abortion, we’ve dealt with that, with the morning after pill … very gray areas, and people feel very strongly about them and feel ethically the other side is just completely wrong,” said Salte.

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“So trying to reconcile some of those, and trying to find ways you can impose as little as possible on the rights and obligations of some part of civilization while at the same time imposing as little as possible on the other side is a difficult compromise.”

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