Bioethics Blogs

The Unwilling Ethicist and Assisted Dying

Lori Seller and Veronique Fraser explore whether clinical ethicists should have the right to conscientiously object to ethics consultations for assisted dying.


On December 10, 2015, An Act Respecting End-of-Life Care came into force, and Quebec became the first jurisdiction in Canada to allow physician-assisted death. This Act, which legislates medical aid in dying in Quebec, states that physicians (and other health care professionals) may refuse to administer (or take part in administering) medical aid in dying. When this is the case, the physician must inform the Director General of the institution of the request for assisted death, who must then identify a willing physician.

As professional ethicists working for the Centre for Applied Ethics of the McGill University Health Centre, we participated in the challenging task of bringing an ethics perspective to the local implementation of Quebec’s medical aid in dying legislation. Not surprisingly, the passionate debate that discussion of physician-assisted death often engenders was reflected within the walls of our Health Centre. We were however, somewhat taken aback when our involvement revealed that the ethicists at our Health Center held deep and disparate convictions about the moral justifiability of physician-assisted death.

The Old Burying Ground, Halifax Nova Scotia. Photo Credit: Angel Petropanagos

Conscientious objection is something our ethicists routinely identify as an option for health care professionals who find themselves in situations that challenge their moral integrity or religious beliefs, but is this option also available to clinical ethicists? We found ourselves asking the following questions: Should a clinical ethicist have the right to conscientious objection in cases of medical aid in dying?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.