Harold G. Fox discussion will focus on freedom of conscience and freedom of religion with medical assistance in dying

Photo of Jocelyn Downie
Jocelyn Downie

January 18, 2022 – Thunder Bay and Orillia, Ont. 

What happens when freedom of conscience and freedom of religion meet medical assistance in dying (MAiD)?

Jocelyn Downie, University Research Professor in the faculties of Law and Medicine at Dalhousie University, will discuss that topic in her Harold G. Fox Distinguished Speaker Series virtual talk hosted by Lakehead University on Tuesday, Jan. 25 at 7 pm.

“Medical assistance in dying is legal in Canada,” Downie said. “There will be individuals who want to access MAiD but whose health-care providers have a religious or conscientious objection to being involved with it.

“There will be individuals who want to access MAiD but the health-care institution they are in refuses on grounds of freedom of religion or conscience to allow assessments or provision of MAiD within their walls.

“There will be health-care providers who want to provide MAiD but whose colleagues, employers, or facilities prohibit them from doing so. What does the law say about such situations? What should it say?”

From this discussion, attendees will learn that the issue of individual and institutional conscientious objection matters greatly. It matters to those who experience moral distress if compelled to act against their religion or conscience, Downie said.

“And it matters to those who face barriers or delays in access to MAiD (a legal health-care service) in Canada – with the potential for extreme suffering and, sometimes, absolute loss of access.”

Downie said individual conscientious objection is controversial but clear in law – clinicians have an obligation to provide an effective referral or transfer of care to a non-objecting clinician or MAiD program. Institutional conscientious objection is controversial and not yet clear in law.

“I believe we should defend the current position regarding individual objections and that we should argue that publicly funded institutions should not be permitted to create barriers to access to assessments and provision of MAiD even when they claim an objection based on religion or conscience.”

Downie’s work on end-of-life law and policy includes Special Advisor to the Canadian Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide; author of Dying Justice: A Case for the Decriminalizing Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Canada; and member of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on End-of-Life Decision-Making, the plaintiffs’ legal team in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), the Provincial-Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying, and the Canadian Council of Academies Expert Panel on Medical Assistance in Dying.

She was named a member of the Order of Canada in part in recognition of her work advocating for high-quality, end-of-life care. She is also a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

Register now for this enlightening discussion: https://lakeheadu.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Nw6wHNKBSW2d3MrTVhXlDg



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Lakehead University is a fully comprehensive university with approximately 9,700 full-time equivalent students and over 2,000 faculty and staff at two campuses in Orillia and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakehead has 10 faculties, including Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Graduate Studies, Health & Behavioural Sciences, Law, Natural Resources Management, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Science & Environmental Studies, and Social Sciences & Humanities. Lakehead University’s achievements have been recognized nationally and internationally, including being ranked, once again, among Canada’s Top 10 primarily undergraduate universities in Maclean’s 2021 University Rankings; as well as included in the top half of Times Higher Education's 2022 World Universities Rankings for the third consecutive year, and in the top 100 of 1,115 universities from around the world in THE's 2021 Impact Rankings (which assesses institutions against the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals). Visit www.lakeheadu.ca.