July 10, 2021
National Association of Catholic Nurses-Canada
P.O. Box 19525, Manulife PO
55 Bloor St. W., Toronto, ON M4W 3T9
Hon. Monte McNaughton, M.P.P., Minister of Labour Training and Skills Development
Susan McArthur, Chair, Ontario workforce Recovery Advisory Committee (OWRAC)
Dear Minister McNaughton and Ms. McArthur,
I am writing on behalf of the National Association of Catholic Nurses-Canada with a recommendation to strengthen Ontario’s competitive position in health care. I hope that the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee (OWRAC) will consider this request under Pillar Two, ensuring that Ontario remains the best place in North America to recruit, retain, and reward workers. Our association was founded in 2018 and is affiliated with the international association of Catholic nurses, CICIAMS. We recommend new Ontario legislation to protect health care workers from disciplinary action by their employers and professional colleges when they exercise Charter-protected conscience rights in their work settings.
Health care workers continually make ethical decisions, both in the direct care of patients and in setting priorities to improve health care access and services. Ideally, they are involved as stakeholders when health care legislation is changed. Thus, our shock when the federal government expanded eligibility for Medical Assistance and Dying while we were deeply involved in minimizing the impact of the pandemic.
This new legislation will affect the daily practice of my colleagues in the mental health sector within two years. It has already had an impact on members of our nurses’ association who work in other specialties. For example, employers that did not accommodate nurses’ Charter right to decline participation in specific procedures found that they either could not recruit or could not retain those nurses.
Ontario’s statutory bodies that regulate the practice of medicine and nursing have adopted guidelines that lean on their registrants to act on patients’ requests for procedures, even those that involve deliberately ending the life of the patient. Where the professional has a clear ethical objection based on careful consideration in conscience, these guidelines ensure the intimidation of college registrants to comply with patients’ requests. It should be noted here that referral of a patient to a colleague who is willing to participate in the procedure also involves the dissenting professional in ethical compromise.
Professional colleges align their guidelines and policies with legislation. Therefore, our hope is that they will remove coercive policies in response to new legislation that prioritizes Charter rights to freedom of conscience for health care workers who care for their patients in ways that promote health, not death.
Perhaps we can learn from Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce’s report regarding conditions in residential schools, an important example of the value of dissent from state-mandated policies. Although he was censured in 1907, we see his wisdom and courage in retrospect. Ontario’s “whistleblower” legislation provides a contemporary precedent for us in recognizing the value of dissent. We are advocating similar protection for health care workers who, due to their proximity to the patient, recognize that there is something wrong with the picture when health care workers deliberately end the lives of their patients. Thank you for taking the time to consider this recommendation.
Helen McGee, BScN MN CPMHNC
President, National Association of Catholic Nurses-Canada catholicnurses.ca