Today’s federal report setting the stage for physician assisted death in Canada is kicking off a debate about the role of faith based healthcare providers in the public system.
At issue – a recommendation from the parliamentary committee that all publicly funded health-care providers offer the service.
But as Ottawa inches closer to a regime for legalized life-ending care, a memo from Providence Healthcare – one of B.C.’s largest health providers – indicates the group won’t budge on allowing doctor assisted death in its hospitals.
“At the most fundamental level, PAD contradicts the basic tenets of Catholic health care – wherein life is held to be sacred from conception to natural death – and not permitted in Catholic health care institutions such as Providence.”
That’s a problem for some.
Vancouver psychiatrist and assisted-dying advocate Dr. Derryck Smith says the province shouldn’t allow health authorities and hospitals to be affiliated with the Catholic Church if it refuses to offer physician-assisted death.
“If they are not prepared to offer these services it’s probably time for the Catholic Church to get out of running these large publicly funded hospitals.”
BC’s Health Minister says Providence patients could be transferred to other hospitals within Vancouver Coastal Health, but Smith says that falls short.
“That’s not good enough for me. I don’t think it is proper public policy to allow a religious order to dictate how publicly-funded hospitals are going to operate.”
Providence operates Saint Paul’s hospital, which is in line for a $1.2 billion dollar move and rebuild.
It’s just one thread in what is sure to be a hot debate where issues of faith and physician-assisted death intersect.
Paul Schratz with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver says on top of that, he would expect doctors who objected to assisted dying to be able to opt out.
“I’d say the vast majority of the public would like to see a palliative care system in place, regardless of whether we go down the road of killing let’s at least be able to offer people a practical alternative.”
It’s a view backed by Grace Pastine the BC Civil liberties association, who agree no one should be forced to perform the procedure.
“In those circumstances our position is that a doctor simply needs to inform their patient that they are an objector, and then refer that patient to a third party that will able to assist that person to find a doctor that will help them.”
But Pastine says her group backs the rights of both doctors and patients – and as such, the right to die must be made readily accessible to those in need.
With files from Shelby Thom and Jeremy Lye