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Catholic Vancouver Feb. 15, 2018

Euthanasia will undermine hospice care, panelists say

By Alicia Ambrosio

Panelists field questions at a Langley public forum on assisted suicide and palliative care. The audience was urged to push for palliative care, which assisted suicide jeopardizes. (Photo submitted)

LANGLEY—A new Fraser Health Authority policy requiring all non-faith-based hospice and palliative care units to provide assisted suicide goes against the very definition of palliative care and undermines the federal government’s attempt to ensure all Canadians have access to true palliative care, say several Lower Mainland politicians.

But all is not lost, says Langley MLA Mary Polak. She believes the time is right to push a conversation about the true purpose of palliative care and the effect the Fraser Health policy will have on access to that care. 

Polak spoke at a Feb. 10 forum in Langley organized by the Association for Reformed Political Action, an organization that encourages Reformed Christians in Canada to become politically engaged. 

The forum was organized to discuss Fraser Health Authority’s December 2017 directive forcing non faith-based hospices run by private foundations to offer doctor assisted suicide on their premises. Until the directive came out hospices were able to transfer patients requesting “medical assistance in dying” (MAiD) to facilities willing to carry it out. 

Polak said there is a high demand in B.C. for hospice and palliative care beds and services. “How dare you take a service that is in short supply and take those beds to provide this new service” which defies the definition of palliative care. 

She believes framing the issue in that light would help a wider range of people understand the impact of the Fraser Health policy. 

Polak said there is a driving force within the bureaucracy of B.C.’s medical system that “just keeps steam rolling along.” However, she said, people concerned about life issues can have an impact on decisions made by the government through prayer, writing letters to members of the Legislative Assembly, and putting forward arguments that people of all beliefs will respond to. 

Federal Member of Parliament Mark Warawa also spoke at the meeting and noted the federal government passed legislation in December 2017 requiring the creation of a national palliative care strategy. Last year’s federal budget earmarked $6 billion over 10 years toward making home and palliative care more accessible to Canadians. 

Warawa said although a national strategy would require buy-in from all levels of government, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix has told him the Fraser Health policy will soon be implemented across the province as planned. 

The B.C. Catholic reached out to Dix for comment but did not receive a reply by press time. 

“What happened in B.C. and the instruction from Fraser Health will destroy palliative care as we know it,” the MP said adding, “if we want hospice care, palliative care to thrive we have to fully fund it. If we fully fund it then we may not have to change its mandate and principles. If the government has even one per cent funding they can say ‘we need you to hasten death.’” 

Kathy Derksen, chair of the Langley Hospice board, told the meeting Fraser Health consulted with hospice and palliative care providers in 2016 and arrived at the conclusion that because palliative care neither hastens nor prolongs death, these facilities would not be required to provide assisted suicide. Since then, one or two people at Langley Hospice have requested it and been transferred to a facility where it was provided, she said. 

In the weeks since Fraser Health changed its policy regarding non faith-based hospices Derksen said members of the community have advised the Langley Hospice they would not feel comfortable donating to the hospice if it were to provide assisted suicide. Some volunteers have also said they would not continue to volunteer at the hospice under the new policy. 

“We find ourselves to be placed between a rock and a hard place,” Derksen said.