Shocked by the publication last year of a report revealing that nearly thirty Indigenous and Inuit women had been victims of forced sterilization between 1980 and 2019 in Quebec, the College of Physicians set up a think tank and is now proposing several actions to “regain the trust” of patients, including training on cultural safety and the addition of a preamble to the code of ethics for doctors.

This preamble will stipulate that the College of Physicians “recognizes that the cultural, Western and patriarchal origins of medicine in Quebec may be responsible for bias in the construction of the health network.” The preamble will also recognize “discrimination and systemic racism.” The president of the College of Physicians, Dr. Mauril Gaudreault, speaks of an “exercise in humility.”

According to him, the addition of the preamble will “color all the articles of the code of ethics”. “It sends a very clear message to everyone,” says Suzy Basile, professor at the University of Quebec in Abitibi-Témiscamingue and co-author of the Basile-Bouchard report on forced sterilizations.

Made up in particular of Dr. Gaudreault, Ms. Basile and surgeon Stanley Vollant, the think tank on terminations of pregnancies and sterilizations imposed on First Nations and Inuit women in Quebec was created following the publication of the Basile- Bouchard in November 2022.

In their report, Ms. Basile and her colleague Patricia Bouchard made 31 recommendations. If the College of Physicians acted quickly by creating a think tank, other recommendations remained a dead letter, notes Ms. Basile, including the funding of a special midwifery program and the government’s recognition of systemic racism, she notes.

Surveying more than 360 doctors, the think tank found that several respondents denied the issue of forced sterilizations, “believing that it was an extreme generalization or that these events belonged to the past”, we read in the first report of the think tank, for whom “significant education and awareness work is necessary, both among doctors and the general public”.

Training on consent, provided for several years by the professional order, will also be enhanced to take Indigenous realities into account.

The think tank wants to study the possibility of modifying the Professional Code in order to add an article which would specify that “carrying out sterilization or an abortion without obtaining the free and informed consent of the person or exercising on pressure on her to accept the procedure” constitutes an “act derogatory to the exercise of the profession”.

Although no doctor has been sanctioned to date in connection with the forced sterilization of Indigenous or Inuit women, investigations are nevertheless underway, notes Dr. Gaudreault. A class action was also authorized in August 2023 for Atikamekw women who claim to have been sterilized against their will. Finally, Ms. Basile has just completed a second phase of her research during which the testimony of other patients was collected between July 2023 and May 2024. These results are being analyzed.