DawgNews has learned that the province of Saskatchewan is poised to allow physicians to refuse blood transfusions to patients in provincial hospitals if it offends their religious beliefs--and may widen the law still further.
The Saskatchewan Minister of Justice has referred legislative options to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal for what he called "guidance." "There are two legal positions," he said. "One, the rights of patients. But there's also the Charter right to religious freedom. Neither right has priority."
Two options have presently been placed before the court. The first would permit Jehovah's Witnesses employed as physicians in hospitals to refuse to administer transfusions. The second would allow all physicians to opt out of any procedure if it is contrary to their religious beliefs.
Lawyer Mike Magoo, arguing on behalf of of the Christian Constitution Foundation, said today that doctors should not have to "park their rights at the door" of hospitals. "You shouldn't be blackmailed into treating a patient if doing so offends your firmly-held convictions," he said.
"It's up to hospital management to ensure that sufficient secular humanists are on hand. Just so long as those folks stay out of the geriatric ward," he quipped.
Magoo is hoping that the courts give their approval to the "open exemption" option. "It's really a matter of conscience," he said. "And that should apply to anyone in a free society." But even the proposed religious opt-out clause is insufficiently broad for real freedom of conscience to be exercised, in his view. "A white supremacist is permitted freedom of belief under our Charter," says Magoo. "Why should a doctor with those views be forced to treat non-whites? Or a doctor with anti-racist beliefs be forced to treat white supremacists, for that matter?"
Faith healers, too, would have the right to withhold conventional treatment, he said. Asked why they would seek employment at hospitals in the first place, Magoo said: "At present, of course, they don't. But with open exemption legislation, the barriers would fall. They'd be able to exercise their rights to employment as well as their rights to religious freedom on the job, without discrimination."
Asked what would happen to members of groups who might be adversely affected--in busy hospital emergency rooms, for example--Magoo said, "Look, the province can't fight discrimination by discriminating itself. If there's a problem, hospitals should just establish more diversity in their hiring practices."