A Catholic hospital in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia will now be required to offer assisted suicide and euthanasia on site, after an assisted suicide advocacy group threatened legal action in January.
The Canadian Senate legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia in June 2016. Both practices are fully funded in the Canadian healthcare system.
The Candian Press reports that St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish was formerly run by the Sisters of St. Martha, which signed an agreement in 1996 with the provincial health authority when it took control of the facility.
The agreement was meant to ensure the hospital’s Catholic identity and values would be preserved.
However, the Canadian Press reports, the Nova Scotia Health Authority last month “quietly instituted” a policy change to require St. Martha’s to offer assisted suicide.
“This approach respects the 1996 Mission Assurance Agreement with the Sisters of St. Martha that lays out the philosophy, mission and values of St. Martha’s in accordance with its faith-based identity, while also meeting the legislated obligation to ensure that [assisted suicide and euthanasia] is available in the Antigonish area for those who request and meet the criteria to access that service,” said Tim Guest, the health authority’s vice-president of health services, as quoted by the Canadian Press.
Dying With Dignity Canada, a group advocating for assisted suicide and euthanasia, said that many hospitals across Canada ban the practice on the premises, particularly in the provinces of Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia.
The group’s leadership has said that they hope the province’s proactive approach will be “used as a model in other jurisdictions across the country.”
Canadian lawmakers have raised concerns about the country’s assisted suicide legislation since its passage, over problems such as conscience protections and whether minors should be able to avail themselves of assisted suicide.
Some of these concerns were raised again in the recent case of a Canadian man, Roger Foley, who suffers from an incurable disease and claims that despite asking for home care, the medical team at an Ontario hospital would only offer him assisted suicide.
The bishops of Canada have recently reiterated their support for palliative care as a distinct form of care that attends to the needs and dignity of the whole person at the natural end of their life.
The bishops’ statement clarified that patients and doctors are not required to do everything possible to avoid death if a life has reached its natural conclusion and medical intervention would not be beneficial.
“So while life is a penultimate good, requiring us to take reasonable care of our lives, we are not morally obligated to seek or undergo burdensome therapies ‘at all costs’ that provide no benefit. Nor at the same time are clinicians morally obligated to ‘do everything possible’ if life has reached its natural conclusion and it is no longer medically appropriate. Such a stance is known as vitalism and is rejected by the Catholic moral tradition,” according to Covenant Health’s definition of palliative care included in the bishops’ statement.
A Catholic approach to palliative care is a “person-centered approach,” the bishops said, “which draws deeply from the scriptural understanding of healing, compassion and love.”
This approach takes account of a patient’s “body, mind and spirit” and tries to relieve human suffering while also attending to “the transcendent needs of the dying person and his/her loved ones, with special solicitude for the poor and disadvantaged.”
There also needs to be more and better information available about palliative care resources for patients and their families in Canada, the bishops said. They advocated for public awareness campaigns about palliative care implemented in the country’s health care systems, including resources that would take into account the needs of different cultures or of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.