Over the past three decades, a small palliative care hospice in suburban Vancouver has raised millions of dollars and provided hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours to benefit British Columbia’s health system.
Now, the Delta Hospice Society must drop its refusal to provide medical assistance in dying (MAID) for qualifying patients in its care. Or else.
In a bid to stave off whatever ‘or else’ might mean, the hospice society board contacted its overseer, the Fraser Health Authority, offering to give back $750,000 in public money it receives. Doing so would place it beneath a particular threshold so it can operate without being obliged to medically kill the sick and dying.
Unfortunately, notes board president Angelina Ireland, MAID means more than money.
“When I spoke to the CEO of Fraser Health and one of the VPs there, they told me ‘No, we don’t care,’” Ireland said. “They’re coming in with a hammer and it’s boom – or else.”
Unable to have a conversation, the board retained Ottawa lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos to represent them. He sent the health authority a formal letter offering to remit the amount in exchange for the private hospice being able to abide by its constitution and past practice in declining MAID requests.
The Fraser Health Authority has been quoted in media reports as saying it fully supports the “right” to MAID everywhere, including hospices. It has also claimed publicly that it has “received an unusually high volume of reports indicating that the hospice’s current position on MAID is adversely affecting the well-being of staff and physicians working at the hospice.”
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But Fraser Health’s response so far to the hospice’s offer of giving money back?
“The Delta Hospice Society is a private organization,” said Ireland. “We have subsidized the government by raising $30 million for health care, not to mention providing 750,000 volunteer labour hours to the system. But they are telling us they’re in control and it’s ‘Do what we say or we will crush you.’”
She admits the 10-bed hospice might be mere weeks from being crushed unless it agrees to permit MAID on its premises. While the society owns the building and has a 35-year lease on the land, the Fraser Health Authority decides which patients are admitted for palliative hospice care.
“They could move (the patients) we have. They could stop sending them. If Fraser Health decides they don’t want to give us any more patients, that would pretty much be the end of us.”
Her hope is that Canadians will demand that a small hospice be permitted to stay open so patients who don’t want MAID, and don’t want to be in an environment where it’s offered, can get end of life care according to their choice.
Ireland makes clear that the board’s resistance is not about assisted dying in general. In fact, the hospice is less than a five-minute walk from a hospital where MAID is available. Nor is the Delta Hospice’s stance based on religious objections.
At the moment, it seems the strongest legal case might be for breach of their 2010 contract.
“There was no mention of euthanasia at that point. It was not part of the landscape. It was not part of the deal. We don’t want it to be and we’re not accepting that it now is,” she says. “We reject it as far as the kind of services we provide and part of the philosophy of hospice palliative care. We do not hasten death.”
Ireland warns that all Canadians should sit up and pay attention to the implications of that, not just for health care but also for democratic freedoms.
“There are many people in this country that want hospice palliative care. They don’t want to be euthanized or be in a facility where people are being killed next to them. They want a sanctuary. Freedom means they should be allowed to have it.”
But if Fraser Health prevails, a small sanctuary in suburban Vancouver, and much more, could be facing the end of life as we know it.
Peter Stockland is publisher of convivium.ca and senior writer at the think-tank Cardus.
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