The B.C. government rolled out a plan Wednesday to provide euthanasia and assisted suicide at St. Paul’s Hospital – by making it available beside the hospital.
The Ministry of Health announced it was taking over property beside the hospital to create a “clinical space” where St. Paul’s patients requesting euthanasia can receive it without having to be transferred to another setting.
In the announcement, the ministry said it has “directed Vancouver Coastal Health to take land next to the hospital and establish a clinical space and care setting for VCH use.”
The government said it is updating protocols for discharging and transferring St. Paul’s patients to the new site where “Medical Assistance in Dying” can take place.
Providence Health Care, the Catholic health care provider that operates St. Paul’s, said the ministry’s announcement supports and respects Providence’s position of not allowing MAiD to be performed within the walls of a Catholic facility or setting.
Providence “recognizes that in Canada patients have the legal right to choose medical assistance in dying if they are eligible and if that is their wish,” a spokesperson said.
Providence is “committed to providing compassionate care to all patients and residents” and already works closely with Vancouver Coastal Health to discharge patients and arrange their transfer to Vancouver Coast Health for MAiD, the spokesperson said.
“If there are issues or concerns with transfers, the two organizations work to resolve them.”
The government’s announcement came just hours before the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement reiterating its opposition to euthanasia in Catholic hospitals.
Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller noted that the bishops had already drawn a line in the sand at their September plenary when they stated unanimously that MAID would not be delivered at Catholic hospitals. On Thursday, they formalized that position with a statement that they “unanimously and unequivocally oppose the performance of either euthanasia or assisted suicide (MAiD) within health organizations with a Catholic identity.”
The bishops said, “any efforts by governments or others to compel such facilities to perform MAiD” would be “in violation of Catholic teachings” and would “deeply betray the identity of these institutions as Catholic and would not be in keeping with the Church’s moral teachings on the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person.”
B.C.’s Ministry of Health has been looking for ways to deliver MAiD at St. Paul’s since a controversial story earlier this year about a St. Paul’s patient who had to be transferred to a government-run hospice to receive euthanasia.
Wednesday’s announcement appears to be a workaround in which the government takes land next to the hospital and sets up its own euthanasia site through Vancouver Coastal Health.
The government said the “clinical space” will be staffed by Vancouver Coastal Health staff and be connected by a corridor to St. Paul’s. Patients who want MAiD will be discharged from the hospital and transferred to the care of Vancouver Coastal Health. The new site is expected to be completed in August 2024.
“While faith-based organizations may opt not to offer MAiD services at their facilities, they are expected to work with regional health authorities to ensure the option is available to patients who choose it,” the ministry said in its announcement.
Archbishop J. Michael Miller said the government’s directive “respects and preserves Providence’s policy of not allowing MAiD inside a Catholic health care facility,” and the new patient discharge and transfer protocols are consistent with existing arrangements for transferring patients from its other hospice and palliative care sites, St. John Hospice, May’s Place.
“Providence Health Care and St. Paul’s Hospital will continue to provide compassionate care, in accordance with Catholic teachings, and support the physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs of every patient we serve,” he said.
Canadian Catholic News/The B.C. Catholic