Alberta rate of physician-assisted suicide climbs to four or five a week

Calgary Sun

Bill Kaufmann

The rate of those choosing physician-assisted death in Alberta continues to increase and more are opting out of dying at home, say Alberta Health Services officials.

Since Feb. 6 when the procedure was made possible, 76 people in the province have taken that route to end their lives, which in Alberta is through the intravenous delivery of drugs.

In the week from Jan. 9 to 16, five more people died with the assistance of a physician, a process that became fully legal last June.

That pace has been a surprise to medical practitioners, said Dr. James Silvius, the AHS’s lead for medical assistance in dying. . . .[Full text]

 

Let’s not become Belgium when it comes to assisted suicide

Imagine . . .  being the first hospital in human history to be closed for refusing to kill patients in its care.

National Post

Barbara Kay

In February, the archbishop of Edmonton announced that in the event of legalized euthanasia, physicians and other health-care workers of Covenant Health Hospital would not be participating in the active termination of patients’ lives.

In response last month, Alberta’s associate health minister Brandy Payne stated that Covenant Health’s conscientious objection would be respected, and that patients requesting life termination there would be transferred. That seems reasonable. After all, when conscripted soldiers refuse to go to war for reasons of conscience, they are not asked to provide their own combat replacement.

In Quebec, by contrast, where euthanasia is already in effect, any Christian institution that refuses to comply with the legislation will be shut down. (Imagine the dubious distinction of being the first hospital in human history to be closed for refusing to kill patients in its care.)

Ethics-based tension in the medical community is but one of many concerns we must acknowledge to be inherent in Bill C-14. . . [Full  Text]

 

Covenant Health exclusion on assisted death condemned

Transferring patients would be ‘unfortunate,’ says Dying with Dignity Edmonton co-chair Bradley Peter

CBC News

Advocates for physician-assisted death are condemning a decision which will allow Covenant Health to opt out provincial regulations on the practice.

The Supreme Court of Canada ordered the federal government to have a law in place allowing physician-assisted death by June 6. But the bill addressing that order still faces a battle in the Senate, so it appears unlikely the deadline will be met. Meanwhile, provincial governments are still grappling with how to address regulations for the new law.

The Alberta government has said Convenant Health  –  a Catholic-run and publicly funded health organization  –  will be allowed to opt out for conscience reasons. Patients at hospitals and continuing-care facilities run by Covenant Health will be transferred to other health facilities if they seek a physician-assisted death.  . .[Full Text]

Journalist: shut down Catholic health care facilities that refuse euthanasia, assisted suicide

Sean Murphy*

Doctor Examining an Elderly PatientFollowing a strong statement from the Catholic Bishops of Alberta that Catholic health care facilities will not provide euthanasia or assisted suicide, a columnist at the Edmonton Journal has accused them of defying the Supreme Court of Canada, breaking the law, and denying patients their “legal rights”.

Paula Simons wants to deny public funding to Catholic hospitals, hospices and nursing homes that refuse to allow patients to be killed or helped to commit suicide, which would force them to close, or (more  likely) to be seized by the state through expropriation or other means.

Simons’ column was published the day after statements issued by Covenant Health and Alberta’s Catholic bishops affirmed the traditional opposition of the Catholic Church to euthanasia and assisted suicide, despite the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that ordered legalization of the procedures.

Covenant Health’s Dr. Gordon Self emphasized that the organization was confident that it would “find a way to respond respectfully and compassionately to requests for physician assisted death that does not abandon the person in our care nor compromise the values of care providers or our organization.”

Throughout this process we are committed to upholding the right of both personal and institutional conscience. This will be important for all organizations as they grapple with the same issues of safe and timely co-ordination of care between institutions without abandoning the person in care when their own medical staff conscientiously object. Together we can all learn at this time and benefit from mutual dialogue and thoughtful, ethical reflection.

Alberta’s six Catholic bishops noted that “from a Catholic perspective, the intentional, wilful act of killing oneself or another human being is morally wrong,” so that “no Catholic may advocate for, or participate in any way, whether by act or omission, in the intentional killing of another human being either by assisted suicide or euthanasia.”

The following passage is taken from the bishops’ full statement:

Upholding Conscience Rights

Third, other provincial jurisdictions in Canada have proposed regulations that undermine the conscience rights of physicians and other healthcare workers. This must not be allowed to happen here. Physicians, other medical professionals, and our institutions have to be allowed the freedom that is theirs by right to exercise their conscience, not only to accord with our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but also as a matter of good medical practice. Morally wrong in itself, the attempt to force a physician to assist in a suicide or to kill another by euthanasia would also fundamentally redefine what it means to be a doctor. Killing is not medicine. Likewise, from an ethical perspective, and certainly from that of Catholic moral teaching, a physician who conscientiously objects to these practices must not be coerced into referring a patient to another professional for assisted suicide or to be euthanized. This would, in fact, be complicity and thus a violation of the person’s right to freedom of conscience. Furthermore, medical professionals who refuse for reasons of conscience direct or indirect participation must also be protected from intimidation and discrimination.

Patient rights and the rights of family members must also be respected – that is, their civil right to access medical care for themselves and their loved ones in which there is no pressure to request or to submit to assisted suicide or euthanasia, and indeed their natural right to be served by doctors and institutions that practice only medicine and are not involved in state-sponsored killing. This is essential to maintaining the relationship of trust between patients and doctors or other care-givers. A great many citizens still intend that their doctors, and the institutions to which they entrust themselves at need, be committed to the Hippocratic oath. They must not be deprived of access to such just because there are other citizens who desire assistance in committing suicide. If they are so deprived, this will have far-reaching consequences, disrupting the relationship of trust with the state as well as with the medical community.

The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada makes legally permissible in some circumstances what is morally wrong in every circumstance: the taking of innocent human life. This is unacceptable in a truly just and ethical society.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton

Most Reverend Frederick Henry
Bishop of Calgary

Most Reverend Gregory J. Bittman
Auxiliary Bishop of Edmonton

Most Reverend Daniel Motiuk
Bishop of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Edmonton

Most Reverend Girard Pettipas,CSsR
Archbishop of Grouard-McLennon

Most Reverend Paul Terrio,
Bishop of St. Paul

Freedom from conscience

The Interim

Editorial

On June 24, Joan Chand’oiseau saw a sign at the front desk of the Westglen Medical Centre in Calgary: “The physician on duty today will not prescribe the birth control pill.” The sign, put up only when Dr. Chantal Barry is the sole physician at the clinic, so offended the would-be birth-controller that she has since made the good doctor’s principled objection her casus belli for a modern-day, social-media crusade. The apparent slight against Chand’oiseau has now garnered national attention, with political candidates dutifully – if pitifully – conforming to the conventional wisdom: that some wrong has been done, and some remedy must be made. – [Full Text]

Should doctors have the right to refuse to treat a patient?

The Globe and Mail

Kelly Grant

Canada’s largest medical regulator is reviewing its policy on physicians and the human rights code, a document that wrestles with a thorny question: When can a doctor refuse to treat a patient on religious or moral grounds?

The review by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) is a regularly scheduled revisiting of the policy, which was last updated amid controversy in 2008.

But the checkup also comes a few months after word spread online and in the mainstream media of a form letter distributed by three Ottawa doctors who declined to prescribe birth control because of their “religious values,” a rare example of physicians openly refusing – in writing – to provide services for religious reasons.

In another case that surfaced this week, a Calgary woman posted to Facebook a picture of a sign on the door of a walk-in clinic that read: “Please be informed the physician on duty today will not prescribe the birth control pill,” although the sign did not explain why. . . [Full text]

Christian Medical Professionals support Alberta bill

News Release

Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS)

The Calgary and Edmonton Chapters of the Christian Medical and  Dental Society of Canada are in support of Bill 212, The Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Amendment Act, which would protect healthcare workers’ conscience rights.

Increasingly, we hear of institutions and organizations placing pressure on healthcare     workers to act contrary to their convictions, especially as technological advances     challenge traditional ethical boundaries. Canada has a long history of recognizing the     rights of freedom of conscience; however, healthcare workers are feeling increasingly     vulnerable. Many are calling for explicit legislation to protect them from being required  to refer for or participate directly or indirectly in medical procedures or treatments  that violate their convictions without fear of discrimination, dismissal, or harassment.

Certainly, physicians and other healthcare workers must provide care in  life-threatening emergencies to all people regardless of ethnic origin, creed, etc.: this  is consistent with the Hippocratic tradition. Also in keeping with the Hippocratic tradition is the inviolable tenet that human life is sacred, regardless of stage.  Consequently, those who solemnly hold these principles must not be pressured to act contrary to them as they are foundational to the integrity of the profession and the trust of the public. In matters of choice, healthcare workers are positioned to fully inform patients of all their legal options, but they must not be obligated to participate in a patient’s choice of treatment.

CMDS desires an open discussion of the issue of conscience-protection legislation and, to this end, invites healthcare workers to bring their concerns to the attention of their professional organizations, politicians, and members of the public.

For further information: In Calgary, contact Dr. W. Joseph Askin at 236-1500 In Edmonton, contact Dr. Gunnar Myrholm at 465-0951

Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS) #26, 7740 18 St. S.E. Calgary, AB T2C 2N5 Tel:  (403) 236-1500 Fax (403) 236-2839

 

Leader of Alberta party reverses support for freedom of conscience

Danielle Smith, leader of Alberta’s Wildrose Party, has stated that the party will reverse its position on freedom of conscience, instead adopting a policy that health care workers should be forced to facilitate services or procedures to which they object for religious or moral reasons.  Her statements have been contested by one of the party’s elected members [Calgary Sun].

Defeated political party leader considers abandoning support for freedom of conscience

Danielle Smith, leader of Alberta’s Wildrose Party, is reported to be thinking of reconsidering the party’s support for freedom of conscience following the party’s defeat in the recent provincial election.  The premier of the province, who stated that she was “frightened” by freedom of conscience, was re-elected with a large majority. [National Post]

In the True North Strong and Free

Project Letter to the Calgary Herald

Sean Murphy*

Twelve years ago, an editorial in the Calgary Herald1 expressed hope that a bill proposed by MLA Julius Yankowsky2 would ensure that health care professionals would not be forced to participate in procedures or services to which they objected for reasons of conscience.

The editorial cited the example of coerced participation of nurses in late term abortions at Foothills Hospital3 and the case of Maria Bizecki, a pharmacist facing discipline for refusing to dispense the morning after pill.4 The bill, said the editorial, was “a common sense compromise” that would respect freedom of conscience without preventing access to abortion or drugs. Yankowsky’s bill did not pass, but a common sense compromise was eventually worked out between Ms. Bizecki and her employer, the Calgary Cooperative Association.5

While Ms. Bizecki’s case was grinding slowly forward, she and Professor Donald De Marco met the Herald editorial board. Danielle Smith, then a member of the board, was at the meeting. So was Herald columnist Naomi Lakritz, who, at one point, personally congratulated Ms. Bizecki for her stand.6

Danielle Smith, now leader of the Wildrose Party, appears to be advocating the kind of compromise supported by the Herald when it expressed support for freedom of conscience for health care professionals. Ms. Lakritz, however, seems to have changed her mind.

“The word ‘conscience,’” she writes, “is now being used to advocate doing the wrong thing” – like refusing to dispense the morning after pill. (“Conscience rights is another way of allowing discrimination.”Calgary Herald, 10 April, 2012)

Ms. Lakritz is not alone in this belief. She reports that Alison Redford, the Premier of the province, is actually frightened by suggestions that at least some people in Alberta might refuse to do what they believe to be wrong. We are told that Liberal and NDP leaders also oppose freedom of conscience, and that the Alberta Party leader condemns protection of conscience legislation as “an exercise in exclusion,” a point apparently overlooked by those who drafted Section 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

According to Ms. Lakritz, the Premier believes that suppression of freedom of conscience demonstrates respect for diversity, that people are treated with “dignity and respect” when they are forced to do what they believe to be wrong, and that threatening conscientious objectors with dismissal makes people feel “safe and included.”

We are not told if the Premier and other leaders opposed to freedom of conscience insist that their candidates sacrifice their personal integrity in order to run for office. Nor does Ms. Lakritz tell us if employees at the Calgary Herald must do what they believe to be wrong as a condition of employment or promotion.

She does, however, claim that those who, for reasons of conscience, refuse to provide a legal drug or service act wrongly and dishonourably because they thus treat some people “as though they were much less equal to others.” This is like saying that refusing to sell tobacco is wrong because it treats smokers “as though they were much less equal” to non-smokers, or that refusing to facilitate prostitution is dishonourable because it denies equality to ‘sex trade workers.’ Even if one accepts such a peculiar notion of equality, however, equality is not the only principle relevant to the moral evaluation of an act. Moreover, the mere legality of a product or service imposes no duty to provide it or to affirm its moral acceptability. Ms. Lakritz made this clear when she excoriated Henry Morgentaler and abortion rights groups for suggesting that Catholic bishops should ask people to stop protesting abortions – a legal, tax-paid service.

“[The bishops] are not exactly known for indulging in moral relativism,” she observed.

“What this society needs is more people like them who take a firm stand on issues and do not apologize for refusing to be swayed by whatever current compromise passes for morality.”7

It is a pity that Ms. Lakritz no longer believes this: that she now holds that such people are “truly disgusting,” and that personal integrity and courage are grounds for dismissal in the true north strong and free.

O, Canada.

Notes

1.  “Editorial, The Calgary Herald, April 11, 2000. (Accessed 2012-04-11)

2. Bill 212, Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Amendment Act, 2000.

3. Ko, Marnie, “Personal Qualms Don’t Count: Foothills Hospital Now Forces Nurses To Participate In Genetic Terminations.” Alberta Report Newsmagazine, April 12, 1999

4. Mastromatteo, Mike, “Alberta Pharmacist Vindicated for Pro-Life Stand.” The BC Catholic, 3 November, 2003

5. Gerald D. Chipeur to the Calgary Co-operative Association Re: Maria Bizecki, 19 December, 2001

6. E-mails from Maria Bizecki to the Administrator, Protection of Conscience Project, 10 and April, 2012.

7.  Lakritz, Naomi, “Hypocrite Henry: Morgentaler exercises his own brand of violence.” Winnipeg Sun, 17 January, 1995 (Accessed 2012-04-13)