Two more Winnipeg doctors speak out against assisted suicide

Two Winnipeg doctors are urging the College to respect their conscience and not force them to be involved in physician assisted suicide.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba is looking for input into the issue

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba says in its draft statement on physician-assisted dying that two physicians have to participate to process of a patient's request for help in ending his or her life. (Reuters)

Two Winnipeg doctors are saying no to physician assisted suicide and are asking the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba to respect their consciences.

As the legalization of physician assisted suicide gets closer, the college is getting input from the public to draft its statement on the issue. 

The doctors have written letters to the college and they point to the Hippocratic Oath they took when they first entered the medical field more than 20 years ago.

"The Hippocratic Oath is the foundation of medicine. And part of that tradition explicitly regards the patient, one's fellow human being, as sacred," says Dr. Mark Kristjanson. "There is a very explicit commitment to not take the life of a patient. It's distressing, it's disturbing and saddens me it has come to this."

Kristjanson has 30 years experience in family medicine, palliative care, working with the disabled and oncology.

As of February 6, 2016, it will be legal in Canada for a physician to assist a competent adult in taking their own life under strict conditions. But it's not clear yet what the legislation will look like and what role a doctor will play or if doctors can refuse to participate. 

Kristjanson believes the number of doctors who are promoting assisted suicide across the country are in the minority. He believes those doctors want to see all physicians obliged to at least refer a patient for assisted suicide if they don't want to participate.

But that is something neither Kristjanson or Dr. Larry Rados are prepared to do.

Rados is an acute care doctor with more than 25 years experience. He says assisted suicide is clearly at odds with his conscience and the Hippocratic Oath to not cause harm.  And if a patient requests it, he says he won't refer that patient to another doctor.

"I will take the view that a referral to another doctor would be equivalent to a recommendation for the procedure. Why would I make a referral for assisted suicide if I don't think it is in the patient's best interest?"

Rados says some people seem to take the view that a doctor should be a glorified waiter in a restaurant who should take a patient's order, no matter what they ask. 

"Every doctor that has been around for a while knows there are times when you say no. We say no when a patient asks for narcotics and doesn't need them. We should be allowed to say no in this case as well with regard to referring patients," Rados says.

Kristjanson says he's not prepared to budge.

"I wouldn't quit voluntarily," he says. "But if the College takes a firm stance that I must refer to another colleague, I still would not make a referral. If that would risk losing my license, that would be a risk I would take. Although that would not be the route I would prefer."

Rados says he too will follow his conscience and accept the consequences.

"This isn't why I or some or my colleagues went into medicine. It's to wear the white coat of the healer not the black coat of hastening someone's death. I would subject myself to whatever discipline that is necessary to follow my conscience," Rados says.

Both are hoping it won't come to that.

"The College has always carved out space for conscientious objection. It has always been very good about respecting the right or ability of a physician to practice within the bounds of their own conscience and to not stray into an ethically problematic territory," says Kristjanson.

Both in a written letter have asked the College to make room for those who have conscientious objection.

No one from the College was available for comment.

The college draft position is expected to be released by the middle of October.

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