A controversial conscience rights bill that critics say would reduce access to health care is back up for discussion in the legislature Monday — and Edmonton doctors are urging the government to vote it down.
On Nov. 21, the standing committee on private bills and private members’ public bills determined Bill 207 should not move forward for debate. The legislature will vote Monday on whether to accept the all-party committee’s recommendation.
“This bill needs to die,” said Dr. Shelley Duggan, a critical care physician who works at Covenant Health facilities in Edmonton.
Duggan and 49 of her colleagues have co-signed a letter to Alberta MLAs calling for the bill to be rejected.
“The potential for patient abandonment and to jeopardize patient well-being in the name of conscientious objection is worrisome and conflicts with the very essence of the medical practice,” the letter reads.
Despite the fact that this bill would give us more rights, we don’t want them.– Dr. Shelley Duggan
If approved, Bill 207 — brought forward by UCP backbencher Dan Williams —health-care providers could no longer be sued or sanctioned for refusing to provide a service or referable that violates their personal or moral beliefs.
As it stands now, Alberta doctors who don’t want to perform certain services must refer the patient to someone or to a service that can — but the bill had raised questions about whether health-care providers could be sanctioned for failing to do even that.
Critics fear the bill could limit access to reproductive health care, medically-assisted death and health-care services for trans people.
“Despite the fact that this bill would give us more rights, we don’t want them,” Duggan told CBC News.
“This is not appropriate. We have a duty to look after our patients and not abandon them.”
Duggan said her letter was signed by doctors at Edmonton’s Grey Nuns and Misericordia hospitals, which are run by Catholic health care provider Covenant Health.
“The public might assume that … physicians who work at Covenant would support this bill, and that’s not the case,” Duggan said. “The vast majority of us don’t support this.”
The letter highlights protections already in place for health care providers’ conscience rights. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta directs doctors who don’t want to provide a certain service to help patients find a physician who can.
“Bill 207 takes that away,” Duggan said. “It says we don’t have to refer and that we can walk away and not have to look after our patients.”
Hundreds of physicians had previously voiced their concern over the bill. The Alberta Medical Association suggested it was unnecessary.
The association had written to Health Minister Tyler Shandro to say the current rules are working and that Williams’s bill was already causing anxiety for doctors and patients.
“The bill may have unintended consequences in limiting patient access to services,” AMA president Christine Molnar told Shandro in the public letter.
“For physicians, the current state protects conscience rights while also ensuring that patients are given information or referral to allow them to pursue access to the desired service.
“This arrangement has served Albertans well and should be maintained.”
with files from Stephen Cook