Bioethics Blogs

Religious exemptions to assisted dying harm patients

Stuart Chambers argues that faith-based institutions should not be ‘conscientiously objecting’ to medical assistance in dying.


Since the passing of Bill C-14 “An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying),” the debate over negative and positive rights has resurfaced. Assisted dying advocates emphasize negative rights. They insist that the state should refrain from interfering in the intimate personal decisions of its citizens. However, they also make claims about positive rights insofar as the state has an obligation to provide the resources—hospitals, staff, drugs—required to fulfill a dignified death. Without both types of rights — negative and positive — the Act is groundless. When faith-based hospitals demand religious exemptions from medical assistance in dying, they are, thereby, undermining personal dignity. The result is increased vulnerability and suffering for patients.

For reasons of conscience, individual health care professionals may refrain from providing end-of-life services. There is nothing in the Act, however, that remotely suggests that publicly-funded hospitals are exempt from the responsibility to provide medical assistance in dying.  This has not stopped faith-based institutions from imposing their theological worldview on their patients. In December 2015, the Catholic Health Sponsors of Ontario rejected any exception for physician-assisted death in its institutions and would not “directly or explicitly” refer a patient to get the medical procedure elsewhere.

Concordia Hospital

This religious bias, however, was not in sync with the attitudes of Ontarians. When polled in October 2016, 57% of Ontario residents disapproved of the position of Catholic hospitals on medical assistance 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.