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Steve Weatherbe

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B.C. hospices say they’ve been told to offer euthanasia

Steve Weatherbe

BRITISH COLUMBIA, October 21, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Two of British Columbia’s five regional health authorities — one of them covering the “Bible Belt” area of the lower Fraser River valley just east of Vancouver — apparently have told voluntary societies offering hospice and palliative care that they must provide euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The Fraser Health Authority and its unnamed ally are not only flying in the face of — and against the philosophies and binding constitutions of most if not all the province’s 73 voluntary hospice societies — they have done so without consulting the hospice societies in their own regions. Apparently they have also jumped the gun on the provincial Health Ministry, which is months away from finalizing its own policy.

“We have made it clear from the beginning of the discussion about medical assistance in dying that it is not part of hospice and palliative care,” said Lorraine Gerard of the B.C. Hospice and Palliative Care Association. “In hospice care, we do nothing to prolong life, but we do nothing to hasten death.” Hospices, instead, make terminal patients’ final days as comfortable as possible and help their families grieve.

Lisa Zetes-Zanatta, the Fraser Health Authority’s executive director for its Home Health and Palliative Care Program, would not confirm its instructions to hospice societies operating within its boundaries. “We are in discussions with our internal stakeholders about this issue and, while they evolve, we will continue to provide patient-centered care, including medical assistance in dying services as outlined in the [federal] legislation,” she told LifeSiteNews via email.  

She noted that the recently passed federal legislation on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) allowed conscientious objection by individual health care providers only.

Zetes-Zanatta added, “We recognize the concerns of some palliative care physicians and hospice societies who feel assisted dying may conflict with a core philosophy of palliative and end of life care — to alleviate suffering as the patient reaches their natural death.” But she said nothing directly about whether the Fraser Authority was requiring those caregivers nonetheless to violate their principles and constitutions.

“Our priority is supporting patients and responding to their needs as best we can,” she continued, without ever acknowledging patients who want no part of palliatate centers that do double duty as termination units.

The action of the two health authorities’ policies could make the current delivery of palliative care impossible. “Two-thirds of our societies rely entirely on unpaid volunteer efforts to provide palliative care,” Gerard said. Not only those volunteer workers, but the volunteer boards that run the societies, are completely committed to the philosophy of the hospice movement, which is opposed to involvement in assisted death. They might be driven away from the work by involvement with MAID.

What’s more, Gerard said, “Their ability to raise funds would be threatened once potential donors see what they are doing.”

The paid staff employed by the bigger societies operating in the Lower Mainland, Victoria, and other larger cities are just as committed to doing nothing to hasten death. A group called Citizens for Public Safety has started a petition aimed specifically at the Fraser Authority’s board but also addressed to the provincial government.

It reads in part: “As concerned citizens, it has come to our attention that all non-faith-based hospices and palliative care units in the Fraser Health Authority may be required to offer euthanasia and assisted suicide (MAID) on their premises. This is extremely distressing and would destroy the strong hospice and palliative care system in Fraser Health.”

It asserts the rights of “patients at end of life" to “completely be confident that they will be safe and treated without reference or exposure to hastened death in any form. … Trust will be eroded and suffering will be greatly increased for many patients and families if the crucial perception of refuge and sanctuary is compromised in any way.”

One petition signator, Gerard Van Dop, confirmed the claim made elsewhere in the petition that hospice centers operate as “an integrated society.” The families of the patient are invited to stay overnight, to take breaks from the bedside to have coffee and cookies in comfortable lounge areas, and to chat with other families.

Imagine the impact, Van Dop said, if “one family says during a chat with another that their mother “will be dying tomorrow afternoon.” He told LifeSiteNews, “If they want a booked death, it should be at a different facility for that purpose. The two kinds of patient and the two groups of families should not be comingled.”

Van Dop added that hospices “know a better way” to handle terminal illness, and that is with painkilling drugs and bedside care. Even the last moments of those with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, who die by asphyxiation, can do so painlessly and in their sleep thanks to current palliative treatments.

Gerard told LifeSiteNews that two health authorities had advised hospices they would all have to provide medical-aided death. She immediately arranged a meeting with provincial health officials who assured her that the policy was still being developed and the actions of the two authorities were “premature” –and they would be told forthwith.

Gerard added that her organization’s research indicated that no provincial government that had formulated a policy was requiring hospices to deliver MAID. None required faith-based hospices to participate. Some required other hospices to refer patients to other facilities.

Quebec had tried to defund hospices that refused to cooperate but discovered it could not legally and therefore was giving those willing to deliver MAID a bonus.

“There is one unintended consequence of this discussion about MAID,” Gerard told LifeSite. “We have learned that large numbers of people, large numbers of politicians, have no idea what hospice care is all about.”

The B.C. Health Ministry acknowledged meeting with the B.C. Hospice and Palliative Care Association, adding "B.C. is committed to a respectful approach that recognizes the diverse needs of patients and healthcare providers." 

It also told LifeSiteNews, "At this time, the ministry has not put a policy in place regarding the provision of medical assistance in dying in hospice and palliative care settings."

But it denied knowing whether or not some health boards had told hospice they must collaborate with euthanasia and assisted suicide.

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