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MAiD advocates prepare for court challenge of ban at Catholic Church-affiliated hospitals


Doctors and nurses at St Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver are trained to prepare a patient for medical assistance in dying, or MAiD.

But when the time comes for the actual procedure, that patient has to be transferred to a different facility, because St. Paul's is run by Providence Health Care, which is affiliated with the Catholic Church.

“It’s a very long-standing historical thing where, years and years ago, nuns in particular did deliver health care and they started hospitals,” said Helen Long, the CEO of Dying with Dignity.

“So, there’s an agreement between them and the Ministry of Health in B.C. that allows them to opt out of services that they don’t want to provide on the bases of religion or conscience, regardless of whether they’re publicly funded or not.”

That’s what happened to 34-year-old Sam O’Neill, who chose a doctor-assisted death when she was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer, but had to be sedated and moved from St. Paul’s to a hospice in the final hours of her life for the procedure. Her parents called the entire ordeal inhumane.

“Our sympathy and my heart goes out to Sam’s family, because they have lost the chance to say goodbye, she lost her chance to say goodbye,” said Long. “MAiD death should be about ending suffering, about compassion, and about a choice. And this death does not sound like they had any of those elements.”

Advocates say Sam’s experience with MAiD is why they’re looking at a constitutional challenge to the agreement between the government and Providence Health that allows its hospitals to opt out of providing MAiD.

“Physicians and nurse practitioners have what we call conscience rights, the ability to opt out of something that goes against their personal values. We don’t believe a building has the same rights under the Charter,” said Long, who believes Providence Health hospitals should allow outside clinicians to perform the procedure if its own staff members aren't allowed.

Daphne Gilbert, a constitutional law professor at the University of Ottawa, expects a Charter challenge will be filed.

“The Catholic Church does not fund health care, they don’t put money into the health-care system through these institutions. It’s not like this is a shared funding agreement. All of the money is coming from the taxpayers,” said Gilbert.

She said the Quebec government has already passed legislation requiring every publicly funded institution to provide MAiD, and believes B.C. and other provinces should follow suit.

“I think the provinces have to decide: Do they want to be in the position where they are defending a Charter challenge like we are talking about bringing, where they are standing on the side of the church and saying this should be allowed? Or do they want to say, 'No, this should not be allowed, and if the church wants to sue us, we will take that on said Gilbert, adding “They have to pick a side.” Top Stories

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