June 19, 2015 7:11 pm
Updated: June 22, 2015 8:36 am

The right to refuse treating a patient in Saskatchewan


Watch above: The Saskatchewan College of Physicians and Surgeons is debating whether physicians should have the right to refuse certain services to patients. Meaghan Craig takes a look at the controversial concept.

SASKATOON – In the next few months, patients should have a better understanding of what to expect of their physician and how to access services. Equally as important doctors will know what they’re obligated to do if a patient’s request is something they’re opposed to.

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On Friday, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan set out to strike the right balance between a patient’s wishes and a physician’s right to refuse those services.

A policy in principle was passed by counsel that will help clarify expectations.

READ MORE: U of S prepares for enhanced ‘physician-assisted suicide’ education

“The issue is what happens when a physician has a conscientious objection to providing a service that a patient wishes and what right do the patients have to expect that their physician will provide the services or that they can access them through some other way,” said Bryan Salte, with the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

This policy is an effort to try to balance both parties interests, making sure  patients are not inconvenienced and have access to services that are available to the public. On the other hand, counsel is trying to infringe as little as possible on those physicians who may have a conscientious objection to certain forms of treatment such as genetic testing, abortion or birth control

“What the obligation is according to the draft policy that’s been approved in principal is to have a process in place without describing exactly what that process has looks like,” added Salte.

“So that the patient will not be disadvantaged, so the patient will receive the information that he or she needs and that the patient has an understanding of how to go about accessing the service if that’s the service that they want.”

Counsel decided it wouldn’t prescribe how exactly this will be done but is now putting that obligation on the physician to have an effective, time sensitive process in place to deal with requests they are uncomfortable with.

“There will be some people who feel this is unduly intrusive upon physicians, there will be people who will believe that this does not go far enough,” remarked Salte.

It’s a juggling act that has to take into consideration the minimum expectation when it comes to public interest, protecting patients, providing services patients are entitled to receive with that of what a doctor finds a moral conviction.

“This is a huge issue for our members, it’s the difference between being able to practice according to our moral convictions or not being able to practice at all,” said Larry Worthen, executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society.

Flying across the country to be present at the meeting, Worthen said his organizations members are most concerned about abortion and physician assisted suicide.

“We’re quite happy to provide information to patients, we want to maintain the physician-patient relationship, we don’t want to upset or make our patients distraught, we want to give them all the information that they need to make an informed decision,” said Worthen.

“All we ask that is when it’s time to access the service that we’re able to step back and allow the patient to access the service directly.”

Worthen added that most of his organizations physicians would have a dialogue with a patient when they enter the practice and would clearly explain what services they weren’t comfortable performing.  In many instances, this would include referring their patient to another doctor for things such as an abortion.

“Referral is actually morally a participation in an action that is wrong so what we’re basically asking is our conscience rights under the charter of rights and freedoms will be respected and the college will not require us to make arrangements for or participate in procedures that go against our moral convictions.”

Consultations will now be held with physicians and the public with a  final decision on the document and whether it needs to be modified in September.

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