A provincial adjudicator has ruled in favour of The B.C. Catholic and ordered the Fraser Health Authority to take the wraps off additional sections of secret documents related to the development and implementation of its controversial assisted-suicide policies and practices.
In a 26-page ruling dated Aug. 3, an adjudicator with the Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C. ordered Fraser Health to uncover redacted parts of 131 pages of in-camera board-of-directors and board-committee documents and turn the results over to The B.C. Catholic by Sept. 18.
A Fraser Health spokesperson said in an email that the health authority would comply with the order.
The decision appears to mark the beginning of the final chapter of the newspaper’s 3 1/2-year effort campaign to unearth information about how and why Fraser Health, the province’s largest health authority, decided not only to force all health facilities in its region to offer “medical assistance in dying,” but also to normalize and actively promote the procedure. (See timeline sidebar below.)
The ruling comes at time when the number of assisted suicides in B.C. has rocketed, soaring 24 per cent from 2021 to 2022 to a total of 2,515, according to new statistics published by DailyMail.com. Statistics Canada has not yet released national figures for 2022, but MAiD critics expect similar increases across the country, especially in Quebec.
“We’re absolutely the worst country in the world for the speed of what has been done, for the way in which governments have allowed and then promoted the killing of patients,” John Hof, a longtime B.C. pro-life advocate and political activist, said in an interview. “We’re the worst. Simply the worst.” Hof is a member of St. Joseph’s Parish in Langley.
The B.C. Catholic launched its Fraser-Health/MAiD investigation in early 2020 after receiving complaints from patients who said they were being pestered about MAiD. In response, the authority made public three batches of information.
The first, in February, showed that, in seeming opposition to the actual practice of some staff, its policies required MAiD to be a patient-driven process. The next two batches of documents were of previously secret board and board-committee agendas, reports, and minutes. They showed how the board, in forcing all Fraser Health facilities to provide MAiD, ignored advice from its own experts. As well, the documents revealed that many medical staff opposed MAiD and were distraught by its introduction into their workplaces.
Information and Privacy adjudicator Alexander Corley wrote in the Aug. 3 ruling that Fraser Health must uncover additional sections of those previously secret documents that do not relate to personnel or other legitimately confidential information. The B.C. Catholic will publish a full report on the contents of the document after its receipt.
MAiD became legal in Canada in June 2016; Parliament expanded its provisions in May 2021 to give access to persons who were not actually facing imminent death. The liberalization is set to expand yet again in March 2024, allowing access to MAiD for persons who sole underlying medical condition is a mental illness.
A joint Senate-Commons committee recommended in February that the mental-health allowance proceed and, further, that the law be amended to give access to MAiD to mature minors and to allow for advance directives (also known as living wills) for MAiD.
Liberal and NDP members of the committee gave unanimous support to the recommendation, while all four of the Conservative members opposed the mental-health and mature-minor recommendations, and three of the four opposed the advance-directive one.
In June, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos filed a formal reply to the report, saying that the Liberal government was proceeding with the mental-health allowance, but throwing cold water on the mature-minor and advance-requests recommendations. “The topic of advanced requests remains challenging,” Duclos wrote.
Also at the federal level, the Conservative policy convention in Quebec City this week was scheduled to consider a motion to codify its opposition to MAiD, specifically related to the mature-minors and advance-directives issues.
“The current Liberal Party government is just opening MAiD up on every front, on all fronts,” said Hof, who is a delegate at the convention, “and we need to have a counterbalance position so that voters have an option when it comes to the next election.”
Schadenberg applauded the proposed Conservative policy. “This policy would ensure that, if the Conservatives become the next government, that they would not only not be expanding MAiD, but they would reverse the position on euthanasia for mental illness,” he said.
“They would not be supporting euthanasia for children or for advance directives, and things like that. I think it’s essential that, minimally speaking, we hold the line.”
Timeline of B.C. Catholic probe of Fraser Health’s MAiD policies and practices
The B.C. Catholic began its investigation of the Fraser Health Authority’s Medical Assistance in Dying policies after a woman said that, while she was a patient at a Fraser Health facility in the autumn of 2019, staff pestered her about assisted suicide. The B.C. Catholic subsequently learned of other similar cases.
Here is a timeline of ensuing developments:
- March 2020: The B.C. Catholic files a freedom-of-information application asking for all records related to the development and implementation of its MAiD policies.
- February 2021: Fraser Health releases 115 pages of broad policy documents, all of which indicate that MAiD is supposed to be a patient-led process. Fraser Health withholds reports, agendas, and minutes of board meetings dealing with MAiD policy on the grounds the meetings were closed to the public.
- March 2021: The B.C. Catholic files an appeal with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of B.C. seeking the release of the in-camera documents.
- November 2021: Before the appeal is heard, Fraser Health releases 131 pages of new, heavily redacted in-camera documents showing how the board ignored, dismissed, and downplayed concerns raised by senior palliative-care staff about a policy to provide MAiD in all its facilities.
- December 2022: After filing a second appeal to uncover more of the secret records, the B.C. Catholic receives a revised version of the 131-page document, with additional information now viewable. It shows that, in 2016 and 2017, Fraser Health was aware of continuing staff discomfort and opposition to the implementation of MAiD in regional facilities. The B.C. Catholic files a third appeal, seeking complete release of the “closed-meeting” Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, August 2023: An adjudicator with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commission of B.C. orders Fraser Health to uncover even more sections of the 131-page document, and gives the health authority until Sept. 18, 2023, to comply.