Personal convictions

Request for Female Genital Mutilation

Under review

While it is recognized in Québec and in Canada that a patient may refuse a treatment based on religious beliefs, the request for female genital mutilation for religious or cultural reasons is an entirely different story.

In 1997, legislation criminalizing FGM was passed in Canada. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario had already adopted a policy in 1992, forbidding female genital mutilation (FGM) and stating that physicians who performed this practice would be prosecuted  for professional misconduct. The same is true for infibulation in Ontario. The Code of Ethics of Physicians of Québec is not as precise. But it specifies (sec. 60) that the physician must refuse to collaborate in medical acts that may harm the health of his or her patient:

“A physician must refuse to collaborate or participate in any medical act not in the patient’s interest as it pertains to his health.”

Thus, when a patient asks a physician to perform an act that may be harmful to her health, the physician is bound not to perform the act, particularly FGM. For the physician, it is a question of preserving his or her professional independence and making the distinction between the professional realm and the realm of personal convictions. Respecting the personal convictions of patients does not mean that patients can dictate how physicians should behave. Physicians must, however, be vigilant and see to it that their personal convictions do not interfere with their professional obligations.

Masculine circumcision could become the subject of a similar reflection process, but it is still permitted in Canada.