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Cultural safety


Respect for patients and families

Practising according to your beliefs


  • Discrimination is illegal.
  • A physician cannot refuse to assess someone on the basis of a conscientious objection.
  • In non-emergency situations a physician may refuse to provide treatment on the basis of his or her own conscientious objection.
Pedestrians walking by street person

Recognizing and addressing both conscious and unconscious biases is important in providing culturally safe care. Although a physician might have a conscientious objection to providing a specific treatment on the basis of religious or cultural beliefs (e.g. therapeutic abortion, medical assistance in dying), it is generally not acceptable to simply refuse to assess the needs of a patient due to these reasons.

Doctor considering options

In contradistinction, a physician cannot be required to perform an illegal act, regardless of any agreement with, or conflict between, personal beliefs and the wishes of a patient. Examples of specific acts currently illegal in Canada include female genital cutting (also called female genital mutilation) and involuntary euthanasia.

What to do if you have a conscientious objection

Regulatory authorities (Colleges) have generally stated that physicians are required to provide objective medical information to their patients, which may include information about where patients can obtain the requested service.
  • In emergencies, physicians must act to save life or limb.
  • If not a medical emergency, physicians are not obliged to provide the requested procedure or service if they have a moral objection.
  • However, many College policies require more of physicians than a simple refusal. In such cases, physicians must treat all patients with equality and respect, and should provide sufficient information and resources to enable patients to make their own informed choice and to access options for care. This may include providing an effective referral to another physician who would be willing and able to provide the patient's desired care.

Think about it

Can you think of a patient request to which you would have a conscientious objection?

How will you ensure that you respond in a culturally safe fashion in accordance with expectations for practice in Canada?