Death of a hospice
Death | Canadian caregivers fight the country’s pro-euthanasia agenda
by Leah Hickman
Posted 1/18/21, 05:09 pm
The red brick Irene Thomas Hospice facility in Delta, British Columbia, sits at the back of a small, shady corner lot that it shares with a supportive care center for nonhospice patients. The Delta Hospice Society built the coordinating buildings in 2009 on land leased from the Fraser Health Authority, a governmental health group.
The hospice provides palliative care to 10 patients in the Canadian province. Just a 5-minute walk down the street stands the Delta Hospital, a healthcare provider that practices euthanasia. Visitors to the Delta Hospice Society’s buildings only have to take a couple of steps from the support center’s entrance to see the large “H” on the nearby building. Despite the hospice’s proximity to a hospital that provides euthanasia, the Fraser Health Authority is forcing the Delta Hospice Society to close its facilities because it will not do the same.
Members of the society’s board say the same quandary will confront facilities throughout Canada. Angelina Ireland, president of the Delta Hospice Society board and a former cancer patient at the society’s support center, explained Canadian hospitals and healthcare facilities regularly provide select procedures. Patients travel to specific facilities for things like labor and delivery services. “But when it comes to euthanasia now, apparently every single bed in British Columbia must provide euthanasia,” she said. “It has now become the king of all healthcare procedures. Euthanasia: everywhere, all the time.” The society hopes a last-minute amendment to Canadian law will save the hospice and protect other palliative care centers from being forced to submit to the pro-euthanasia agenda.
Canada legalized euthanasia, also called medical assistance in dying, in 2016. Fraser Health notified the society in 2019 that it was violating its service agreement by not providing euthanasia at Irene Thomas Hospice. By then, the society members, mostly people in the surrounding community who had used the support center or whose family members were patients at the hospice, had shifted away from a pro-euthanasia stance to elect a strongly pro-life board of directors, Ireland said. The society objected to the directive, saying the board never received instructions to provide lethal injections and doing so went against the Delta Hospice Society’s constitution, which says its primary purpose is to “provide compassionate care and support for persons in the last stages of living, so that they may live as fully and comfortably as possible.”
Ireland and the new board subsequently passed a resolution stating that medical assistance in dying was not compatible with the society’s mission. “We have personal objections of course,” Ireland said. “But in terms of the society’s position, it’s a palliative care society, and we follow authentic palliative care.” The society referred out patients who wanted euthanasia.
Palliative care is in high demand, and Delta Hospice Society founder Nancy Macey said forcing the hospice to provide euthanasia would be a poor use of the small staff’s expertise. “They have no training in euthanizing people,” she said via email. “It is terrible resource allocation to think that the medical specialty is consistent with euthanizing.”
Fraser Health in February 2020 notified the Delta Hospice Society that in one year it would cancel its 35-year lease more than two decades early because of the hospice’s failure to provide euthanasia. Since the society cannot relocate its buildings, Fraser Health will take over those as well. The society notified employees on Jan. 8 that they would be laid off by the end of February.
Ireland said the Irene Thomas Hospice is the only non-faith-based hospice facility in British Columbia that has not surrendered to the government by providing lethal injection. The society planned to hold a meeting in 2020 to consider becoming a faith-based society, which would make it exempt from the euthanasia requirement.
But three members petitioned the courts to prevent the meeting and complained the society had rejected some members because of their pro-euthanasia views. The court ordered the meeting canceled and barred the society from denying membership over euthanasia support. The ruling opened up membership to anyone who applies and submits a membership fee.
Activists worldwide on both sides of the euthanasia debate have since joined the society in an attempt to take control. Ireland estimated the group now has about 7,000 members, up from a few hundred in 2019, including some from as far away as Panama and Italy. Some are euthanasia activists, but Ireland said most want to save the hospice from euthanasia. “We’re only 10 beds,” said Ireland. “But we have become a symbol of trying to protect against this agenda that’s sort of sweeping through Canada.”
Ireland said Canadian Parliament is the society’s only hope of saving the Irene Thomas Hospice. The Senate is considering a bill to expand euthanasia. Ireland said the society has called on lawmakers to introduce an amendment offering conscience protections for groups that want to provide a sanctuary for the dying in their communities without being forced to provide euthanasia. “That’s our ‘hail Mary,’” Ireland said. “At this moment in time, I do not know if it’s possible or not. That is our hope.”
So far, things don’t look hopeful for the Irene Thomas Hospice: No senator has offered to introduce the amendment, and the legislation is set to pass by the end of February. The society will have to end its operations on Feb. 24.
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