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Families outraged by minister's plan for medical assistance in dying at St. Paul's Hospital

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The provincial government is constructing a new clinical space adjacent to St Paul's Hospital so palliative care patients who choose to undergo medical assistance in dying or MAID don’t have to be loaded into transfer vans or ambulances and driven elsewhere to get the end-of-life procedure.

That’s what happened to 34-year-old Sam O’Neill, a terminal cancer patient who had chosen MAID in April. O’Neill had to be sedated and transferred out of palliative care at St Paul’s Hospital in the final hours of her life. She didn’t wake up to say goodbye to her family before undergoing MAID at a Vancouver hospice.

“They took away any last words we could have said to her. They took away any last words she could have said to us, to her friends and family, there was a lot of us there,” said O’Neill’s mother Gaye. “What they did with Sam when they took her over to the hospice and put her in that storage room, as far as I’m concerned they put her into a hall of shame. She didn’t abide by their beliefs, and they said, 'Get the hell out of my hospital.'”

The O’Neills were furious, demanding Health Minister Adrian Dix force St Paul’s to change its religious-based policy that forbids MAID, which is a legal medical procedure, from happening at the publicly funded hospital. In June, Dix told CTV News he was entering into discussions with St Paul’s about how MAID could be accommodated.

On Wednesday, the province announced the construction of the new clinical space for MAID, which will not be part of the existing St Paul’s, but on adjacent property. It will be connected to the hospital with a corridor.

“What we are doing is people who are in the hospital and in need MAID will be able to go to a hospice setting and have MAID without going outside. That’s a good response that is consistent with St. Paul’s," said Dix, who added he is “very thankful for the contribution of the O’Neill family in the case of their daughter Sam, and everyone else who brought their concerns to my attention.”

But Sam’s dad Jim O’Neill calls the decision to build an outside space for MAID totally absurd.

“It makes zero sense. It’s not easy access and not cost effective,” O’Neill said. “I just think it’s outrageous. I think Minister Dix completely misses the mark on this.”

Scott Harrison, whose partner Christina Bates was also forced to ensure a transfer out of St Paul's palliative care in the final hours of her life in order to undergo MAID, doesn’t understand why the procedure can’t be done in the existing hospital.

“How does a building have rights? I don’t know. I just think the taxpayers are footing the bill because Adrian Dix lacks courage,” said Harrison. “They are really not tackling the issue at all. They are going to spend taxpayers' money to keep the church happy. I don’t know if that’s the best use of taxpayers' money.”

Harrison said regardless of any religious affiliation, a publicly funded hospital shouldn’t be allowed to opt out of providing a legal medical procedure.

“It is the only hospital in British Columbia allowed to do this, and it’s allowed to inflict its values upon citizens of British Columbia, whether they like it or not,” said Harrison.

“It’s just really really disappointing. How many more Sam O’Neills and Christina Bates have to suffer before he gets it?” said Sam’s mother Gaye.

The new clinical space for MAID is expected to be completed in August 2024. The minister could not provide a construction or operating cost. Until it is operational, palliative care patients requesting assisted dying at St Paul’s will still have to be transferred to other facilities.

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