Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Aside: Doctors and HRCs

I can't resist posting the following letter to the editor--written by Dr. Tim Lau of Ottawa--which appeared in today's National Post.

It is in reply to another letter to the editor that appeared in the weekend paper, penned by one Barbara Hall (which I have included below, for posterity's sake), which was itself in reply to a column by Lorne Gunter--in which he (Gunter) dealt with the recent and scandalous encroachment by the OHRC upon the consciences of Ontario doctors.
The letter from Barbara Hall, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, should have been titled: "Doctors mustn't discriminate unjustly."

Doctors, like all people, need to discriminate. Morally, as physicians, we should always try to make decisions that are for the good of our patients. Ms. Hall's judgment that "patients should not have to shop around for medical treatment they were denied for non-clinical discriminatory reasons" implies that physicians make non-clinical decisions.

Consider that, in Canada, there remains no legal limitation on the practice of abortion, even to the 40th week, for an otherwise healthy baby. There is a practice of sex-selective abortions among some cultural groups. If a patient demands an abortion because she doesn't want a girl and doesn't want to "shop around" for a "medically accepted" and publicly funded treatment, does a physician refusing to refer or perform an abortion do so on the basis of a moral or non-clinical discriminatory reason? Who decides what a non-clinical reason is?

Commissions like Ms. Hall's seem to think that clinical decisions are somehow not moral decisions. Their members seem to forget that during the Nuremberg trials, physicians were held accountable for following legal directives, not their morals.

We now have a new publicly funded, politically correct inquisition coming to remove the rights of a doctor near you.

It's interesting to note that, in this model, even Henry Morgentaler--who is himself ethically opposed to late term abortions--becomes fair game to the charge of discrimination as defined by the OHRC. But I digress--

The refreshingly philosophical point here about "clinical decisions" also being "moral decisions" is, it seems to me, centrally important to this issue. And it is, needless to say, very sophisticated stuff requiring the very sophisticated attention of very sophisticated minds ... Yet, somehow, it is to Barbara Hall--who proves time and again her utter incapacity to think beyond the level of 'the shrillest woe wins the caring contest'--that we defer.

(Her letter follows.)

The Ontario Human Rights Commission's role is to speak out on issues that can lead to discrimination. We know from complaints and media accounts that some individuals are being denied public health services because of their race, faith, age, gender, sexual orientation and other grounds under Ontario's Human Rights Code. That's why we are pleased the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has drafted an anti-discrimination policy for its members.

I agree with Dr. Susan Piccinin's examples in her letter to the editor on how she handles delicate situations. Like other professionals, doctors are entitled to make decisions about the services they offer based on their clinical competence. And, doctors, like patients, are also entitled to accommodation of their religious beliefs as much as possible. In some situations, like a medical clinic, it might be appropriate to refer a patient on to another professional who will help them. But patients should not have to shop around for medical treatment they were denied for non-clinical discriminatory reasons.