Leiden Law Blog

Canadian Religious Hospitals: Do they have the religious freedom to refuse physician assisted dying?

Canadian Religious Hospitals: Do they have the religious freedom to refuse physician assisted dying?

If, as individuals, we can believe, then why is it so difficult to think that institutions cannot have the same beliefs as their creators? If a group believes that animals are entitled to basic healthcare, are we surprised that they would, then, found a hospital based on those beliefs? If that same animal rights group is of the view that it would be morally wrong to end the life of an animal that is depressed, would we be surprised that a policy against euthanasia is written in the corporate objects or the bylaws of their animal hospital? No and No!

The recent, controversial, Canadian parliamentary committee’s report on physician assisted death made recommendations that went way beyond the 2015 Supreme Court of Canada ruling. The Court held that the right to a physician assisted death was limited to adults who were terminally ill. The parliamentary committee recommended that the new legislation be broadened to include those who were not terminally ill.

There now appears to be a coming clash of wills between government and religiously based hospitals. Catholic hospitals are being accused of not respecting the Charter rights to assisted death. The argument is that publicly funded institutions must accept public norms. According to this logic, these institutions lose all right to their religious beliefs when in the public arena and at public expense. It is further claimed that they have no Charter rights in and of themselves. The Charter is impotent, unable to give them protection. 

However, Chief Justice McLachlin and Justice Moldaver (both speaking for the minority opinion in the Loyola High School case in 2015) accepted the Charter’s protection of the “communal character of religion”:

The individual and collective aspects of freedom of religion are indissolubly intertwined. The freedom of religion of individuals cannot flourish without freedom of religion for the organizations through which those individuals express their religious practices and through which they transmit their faith. 

I question the moral turpitude of a liberal democracy’s claim that it has the right to force, in the name of freedom, a religious hospital to allow physician assisted dying in its public services even though it is morally repugnant to the conscience of the institution and its constituents.

Just because government gives money to a religious hospital does not mean that government gets to force what services that hospital will provide. The hospital, in the business of providing healthcare, says to government, “This is what we do – do you want to fund it?” Any government funding stems from the government acting in the public interest. If government wishes to require further “services” that violate the conscience of the religious hospital, then it must go elsewhere. To say otherwise would be to turn freedom on its head. No person, and certainly no hospital, ought to be forced to take the life of another human being no matter how moral or right, in the opinion of government, it may seem to be.  

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