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Catholic Vancouver Jan. 10, 2018

Jewish care home death troubles Catholics

By Agnieszka Krawczynski

Dr. Ellen Wiebe has been accused of "sneaking in and killing" a resident at this Jewish care facility, which does not allow assisted suicide on site. The death is raising questions about the implications on faith-based institutions. (Photos by Agnieszka Krawczynski / The B.C. Catholic)

VANCOUVER—The assisted death of an elderly man at a Jewish care home is raising questions about the rights of faith-based institutions to refuse to kill their patients.

The Louis Brier Home and Hospital has accused Doctor Ellen Wiebe of “sneaking in and killing” a resident even though the Jewish care facility does not permit assisted suicide on site.

“It was hidden,” said CEO David Keselman. “We have a lot of Holocaust survivors ... They’re going to feel like they’re at risk when you learn someone was sneaking in and killing someone.”

The resident, Barry Hyman, was in his 80s and living with the effects of a stroke and a lung cancer diagnosis. He expressed a wish to die at home, but while Louis Brier allows assisted dying assessments on the premises, patients must be transferred for the actual procedure.

Wiebe entered the home after hours and, without consulting staff, delivered Hyman’s death in June. Louis Brier since made an official complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“Her conduct bordered on being unprofessional.” 
Bob Breen

“Her conduct bordered on being unprofessional,” said Bob Breen, the head of the Catholic Health Association of B.C. and a former CEO of Louis Brier.

“If families are allowed to bring someone in after hours and perform the procedure, what control could we possibly have over that?”

He said it’s up to the college to determine what happens to Wiebe. “It will be interesting for us to learn what that outcome of that is,” said Breen, suggesting if her actions are not condemned, “we are going to see more of this.”

He added it’s a misunderstanding of the law to say that faith-based institutions must provide assisted suicide now that it is legal.

“The Dying with Dignity people are pushing that, because it’s publicly funded, it’s people’s right,” he said. “They need to re-read the law (which says) if you want to have Medical Aid in Dying and you fulfill all the criteria, a physician will not be charged.”

Just because a doctor will not be prosecuted for killing someone after providing MAID does not mean “you have the right to demand somebody to provide this service.”

Louis Brier Home & Hospital on West 41st street in Vancouver.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, of Vancouver, said he found the news about the death at Louis Brier, contrary to its values, “disturbing.”

“Faith-based institutions, whether schools or health-care facilities, represent communities which have the right to determine the values that govern their mission,” he said in a Jan. 10 statement.

He said it's inaccurate to argue that all publicly funded facilities should provide assisted suicide, since no facility in B.C. provides every available medical procedure and service.

“Physician-assisted suicide, in the words of Pope Francis, is 'false compassion,' and any attempt to coerce facilities into practising euthanasia is an assault on freedom of conscience and religion.”

In an opinion piece last month, Christopher De Bono, the vice president of mission, ethics, spirituality, and indigenous wellness at Providence Health Care, wrote Canada's religious institutions and public health care have found ways to get along since the introduction of medicare in 1966.

“Canada’s newly socialized medical system built upon the pioneering work and private funding of religious groups, often Catholic sisters, who had helped create Canada’s original health care infrastructure,” wrote De Bono.

It’s a point often missed in the debate about what services publicly funded institutions should be forced to offer. 

“(Faith-based) contributions to the health of all citizens are certainly extensive.”
Christopher De Bono

“While it is accurate to say that certain faith-based health providers will not provide MAID in their facilities, their current contributions to the health of all citizens are certainly extensive.”

St. Martha's, a Catholic hospital in Nova Scotia, has also recently come under fire for refusing to provide assisted suicide. It is the only institution in that province that is legally exempt from killing patients who want to die, thanks to a 1996 agreement with the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

“We do honour that agreement,” Lynne Harrigan, the health authority’s vice president of medicine and integrated health services, told the Chronicle Herald.

“It’s an issue where we’re talking life and death and there are some faith-based organizations that would disagree with that. I think we have to accommodate that … But from my perspective, any patient, any person in the province wishing to have access to medical assistance in dying, can have that access.”

The Delta Hospice Society, a non-profit with no religious affiliations, has also recently made headlines over its resistance to providing assisted suicide. Executive director Nancy Macey told media the procedure goes against hospice care values.