Doctors in Ontario are obligated to give referrals for medical services that clash with their moral or religious beliefs, the province’s highest court has ruled.
In a 74-page ruling released Wednesday shortly after 10:30 a.m. ET, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal for Ontario sided with an earlier divisional court decision that upheld the referral requirement.
The requirement is part of a policy issued by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) to address issues surrounding, among other things, assisted dying and abortion and other services to which a physician may object to “on the basis of religion or conscience.”
Last year, the divisional court found that while the policy does infringe on doctors’ religious freedom, the benefits to the public outweigh the cost to physicians.
The court said doctors can ask their staff to provide a referral to another doctor who can provide the service, or choose to specialize in a type of medicine where these issues are less frequent.
In its appeal, the group of five doctors and three professional organizations argued the ruling was unreasonable because it gave more weight to an assumed problem with access to health care than to a real infringement of doctors’ rights.
Dr. Nancy Whitmore, CEO of the CSPO, called Wednesday’s decision a “victory for patients” in the province.
“The court has recognized the importance of ensuring patients get access to the care they need,” she said in an email, adding that the college’s policy “ensures equitable access to health care, particularly on the part of the more vulnerable members of our society, while respecting the rights of all of those involved.”