Open letter to St. Joseph’s General Hospital:
A sincere request to members of the Board of Directors of St. Joseph’s General Hospital, Comox
St. Joseph’s has been in the news lately because of your policy which forbids staff from talking about Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD), assessing or providing MAiD on the premises. It is a public institution which receives 100 per cent of its funding from BC.
St. Joseph’s General Hospital serves the Comox Valley and surrounding area. StatsCan reports more than 80 per cent of people in the area are non-Catholic. We would expect that reflects the makeup of your staff and the clientele you serve.
The St. Joseph Mission Statement says that “St. Joseph’s General Hospital is a health care community that respects the sacredness of all aspects of life. Our hospital embodies the Christian principles of health care in the Catholic tradition. These principles of dignity of the individual and common good inspire our staff, physicians and volunteers to dedicate themselves to service and to the support of one another.” March 2009.
Bill C-14 became law on June 17, 2016. It makes MAiD a right of all Canadians who would like to die with medical assistance provided they meet the criteria. The criteria do not include “must be in a participating institution.”
Given it is over seven years old and as such predates Bill C-14, we believe your Mission Statement is due for a revision so it does respect the “dignity of the individual” in the context of C-14. Bear in mind in order to qualify for MAiD, the patient must have a foreseeable death and must be suffering intolerably. The patient is dying of their underlying disease. What C-14 allows is that the patient may have a gentle, peaceful death at a time of their choosing.
We would suggest that maybe Catholic patients should be encouraged to follow the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church but C-14 does not compel them to do so.
In the event that a patient has come to the point where they would meet the very strict criteria laid out in C-14 and they did want to die sooner than their natural death, what choice would they have at St. Joseph’s?
First of all, we understand that the staff at St Joseph’s is forbidden to even discuss MAiD with patients. While health care providers can choose not to provide an assisted death for reasons of conscience, be that religious or otherwise, St. Joseph’s policy denies the right of those practitioners whose conscience says they must help eligible patients have the peaceful assisted death they choose.
Second, while there is no mention of this on the website or literature, we understand St. Joseph’s will provide an effective referral to a neighbouring hospital – this means 50-100 km away. For a patient close to death, that is in effect a complete barrier to accessing MAiD and it certainly puts already suffering patients in a much more vulnerable position.
C-14 is the law. It is not up for discussion. Citizens of any faith are allowed by law to access MAiD provided they meet the criteria. To deny them that service is cruel, to them and to their loved ones who must then sit idly by as their loved one waits for death.
What would Jesus do? I suspect He would lean towards relieving suffering, taking pity on the suffering. Traditions evolve. Prior to C-14, you had no choice — hastening the death of any patient was illegal, the same as murder. That has changed for Canadians, who are overwhelming in support of a patient’s right to choose an assisted death if they meet the strict legal criteria.
We suggest your Mission Statement should be revised to accommodate the change C-14 brings to the laws of Canada. Your Mission should align with your Vision: “Our vision is to become ever more able to serve the needs of the community with care, compassion and skill.”
The time has come to respect a patient’s wish to die on their terms. This would be kind, caring and compassionate. It is the law.
We hope you will hear and deeply consider the many recent calls for change to your policy denying MAiD services to patients and reconsider this policy.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Ellen Agger and Jeffrey Brooks, Co-chairs
Dying With Dignity Canada Victoria Chapter