At least six faith-based health-care facilities in Manitoba — including two Winnipeg hospitals — will not be providing medically assisted deaths to their patients or long-term care residences.
Officials from St. Boniface Hospital told the Free Press Monday patients seeking medical assistance in dying will have to go to another facility to have the service offered.
Other medical care facilities under the Catholic Health Corp. of Manitoba umbrella, including St. Joseph’s residence in northwest Winnipeg, Ste. Rose General Hospital near Dauphin, and Winnipegosis and District Health Centre will also follow suit, explained the corporation’s CEO, Daniel Lussier.
"Our position, of course, is a longstanding moral tradition that (medically) assisted death or medical aid in dying is the act of hastening death and that is just something that for us, as Catholic health-care providers, is not a service we want to be offering," Lussier said.
Meanwhile, Mennonite-affiliated Concordia Hospital and Archdiocese of Winnipeg-affiliated Misericordia Health Centre have also taken a firm stance that their facilities will provide palliative care options and pain management for patients or residents, rather than medically assisted death.
Concordia Hospital took out an ad in Wednesday’s Herald outlining its stance on the federal legislation.
The federal Liberal government’s assisted dying bill became law in June, allowing medically assisted death for terminally ill people.
"Concordia believes that providing health care is a ministry assigned to us by Christ and is expressive of our Anabaptist faith, values and ethics. As such, our opposition to the practice of MAID based on our ethical and moral beliefs needs has been recognized and honoured by the WRHA, and Concordia Hospital and Concordia Place will not offer the service of (medically assisted deaths)," it said, with a space for readers to donate to the hospital.
Nothing in the federal legislation compels a doctor to provide medically assisted deaths.
Standards of practice by the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Manitoba state a member must not promote his or her own values or beliefs about medically assisted death when interacting with a patient.
However, they can refuse to refer the patient to a doctor who will provide it, as long as they state it is on grounds of a "conscience-based objection" and they refer the patient to accurate resources.
The chief executives of Concordia and St. Boniface both said any patient who requests a medically assisted death will be referred to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s medically assisted death team, who will assess the patient’s eligibility.
If they qualify for a medically assisted death, the patient will either be transported to another hospital or if possible, can receive a medically assisted death at their home.
"If they request medical assistance in dying… we first try to do everything we can to minimize pain," said Concordia CEO Valerie Wiebe.
"If that suffering has created them with a need to request medical assistance in dying, we can certainly connect. We have great relationships with the WRHA departments and programs."
St. Boniface CEO Dr. Bruce Roe said there will be no directive given to doctors about whether they can or cannot offer a medically assisted death as an option for dying patients.
"We will not be providing (medically assisted death), we will not be intentionally ending a life, but we are committed to responding when patients or families ask about it," Roe said.
"Our doctors may say that (a medically assisted death) is an option, we are not telling them not to say that."
Ottawa is working with the provinces to come up with a standard to reconcile objections from faith-based hospitals that reject patients’ requests for assisted dying, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said Monday.
"My department is working with officials across the country to make sure, like all other areas of medically necessary care, that all Canadians will have the same access to care," Philpott said.
Various provinces, including Ontario, British Columbia and now Manitoba, have faced the problem of faith-based hospitals opting out of requests from patients who qualify for the care under Ottawa’s legislation this summer.
Philpott said that work will take time. "We’re seeing that certain provinces have moved along to varying extents, some further than others. Some have fairly rigorous mechanisms by which people can get in touch with a provider who will provide medical assistance or at least a consultation. It’s taking a little time in other parts of the country to get those mechanisms in place."
Provincial Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said there needs to be a balance between protecting those in the medical industry and the rights of patients.
"Every procedure in the health care system isn’t available in every hospital, whether it is Winnipeg or rural Manitoba. It is about balance and we will respect that balance," Goertzen said. "We will protect the right of facilities not to participate in (medically assisted death)."
However, those facilities must have a policy in place for the hand-off of care in instances where a patient requests a medically assisted death, Goertzen said.
Goertzen said he wants to see these facilities have these policies in place "soon."
— with files from Alexandra Paul