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B.C. premier speaks about lawsuit challenging religious exemptions for providing MAID


A day after a lawsuit was filed against the B.C. government, arguing the province's policy of allowing health-care facilities with religious affiliations to opt out of providing medical assistance in dying, the premier was asked about the legal action.

The civil suit was filed Monday by the mother of Sam O’Neill, a Vancouver woman who endured a forced transfer from her palliative care room at St. Paul's Hospital to another facility.

“This family’s choice to go to court, I respect 100 per cent to get clarity from the court about rights and obligations of the health-care system to them, and to all British Columbians,” said Premier David Eby.

He added he has compassion for terminally ill British Columbians who choose to undergo MAID.

“People who have access to MAID, who have made that decision to end their lives in this way have our government's full support around the care that they deserve, to ensure their wishes are carried out in a way that is respectful,” said Eby.

But Scott Harrison, whose partner Christina Bates also endured a forced transfer from St. Paul's in order to undergo MAID in late 2021, said allowing the practice to continue is not respectful.

“I think it’s shameful,” Harrison said. “I think the lawsuit is about time. I think religion has no place in delivery of public services in Canada, and certainly around health care. We don’t have any options, we can’t go somewhere else for health care.”

Harrison said he can’t understand why the province would fight the civil lawsuit in court.

“I’m very confused that we would spend limited and scarce taxpayers dollars on this case. It’s a question for David Eby. I don’t know why the premier would do this, it’s a waste of money,” said Harrison. “He should instruct them to change their policy.”

The province of Quebec did just that. In 2023, it passed a bill that requires all publicly-funded health-care facilities to allow MAID to happen on site, regardless of religious affiliation. Harrison says the B.C. government could avoid a long and expensive legal battle by doing the same.

“Stroke of the pen, it changes. Give notice to the institutions that it’s changing, and it’s over,” said Harrison.

Facing mounting pressure after what happened to Sam O’Neill, last fall the province announced it’s building a stand-alone MAID room adjacent to St. Paul's Hospital connected by tunnel, which will allow patients to avoid a vehicle transfer to another facility when it comes time for the procedure.

But Harrison argues that’s another waste of money when the province could simply force St. Paul's and other facilities with religious affiliation to allow MAID at the bedside.

“MAID practitioners want to come and deliver the services there, and there is plenty of room, and no harm. I don’t understand how this building has a religious conscience," said Harrison.

He recognizes it may take an order from a judge for B.C. to change its laws around MAID, and hopes the civil lawsuit is the first step.

“I applaud the O’Neills for giving voice to the story and taking it to the mat, and getting change for everybody. Because they’ve lost something, and they don’t want others to suffer,” Harrison said, adding it’s what his partner Christina would have wanted.

“I think she’d be really happy,” he said. “She’d be annoyed that it came to this, and not surprised. But she’d be happy.” Top Stories

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