Nova Scotia hospital forced to provide euthanasia, assisted suicide

State health authority says arrangement preserves Catholic identity

Sean Murphy*

Hospital

St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, will begin providing euthanasia and assisted suicide (EAS). The hospital had refused to provide the services because they were considered to be contrary to the Catholic identity of the hospital. The change of policy appears to have been forced by the threat of a lawsuit by EAS advocates. A campaign to force the hospital to permit EAS services had been ongoing for some time [See 958 days without medical assistance in dying policy, Ban on assisted dying at St. Martha’s hospital should end, says law prof].

St. Martha’s was established by a Catholic religious order, the Sisters of St. Martha. However, in 1996 the order transferred ownership of the hospital to the state. The terms of the transfer were set out in a “Mission Assurance Agreement” that required the state to ensure that “the philosophy, mission and values of St. Martha’s Regional Hospital would remain the same and the hospital would keep its faith-based identity.”1

Notwithstanding the terms of the agreement, from 1996 the hospital was not legally a private or Catholic institution, even though it is popularly known as “Nova Scotia’s only Catholic hospital .”2 EAS advocates argued that state ownership of the hospital made it a state actor obliged to provide euthanasia and assisted suicide.1 Logically, this would also apply to abortion, surgical sterilizations, and other procedures contrary to Catholic teaching.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority states that the change of policy is consistent with “the spirit of the Mission Assurance Agreement,”3 which seems to imply that a way has been found for the hospital to “keep its [Catholic] faith-based identify” while providing euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Notes

1. Downie J, GilbertD. Nova Scotia now a leader in medical assistance in dying [Internet]. The Chronicle Herald. 2019 Sep 19.

2. Willick F. Ban on assisted dying at St. Martha’s hospital should end, says law prof [Internet]. CBC News. 2018 Dec 28.

3. Lord R, Quon A. NSHA quietly changes medically assisted dying policy at Catholic hospital [Internet]. Global News. 2019 Sep 18.

Assisted-death lawsuit adjourned, government evidence widens eligibility: lawyer

More Canadians eligible for assisted death: lawyer

The Chronicle Journal

Laura Kane

VANCOUVER – The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and a woman with a degenerative illness have adjourned their lawsuit challenging the federal assisted-dying law after they say government evidence expanded eligibility for the procedure.

The law says that only people who have a “reasonably foreseeable” natural death qualify, but a government expert has filed a report that states some doctors are now interpreting this category to include people who refuse care that would prolong their lives. . . . [Full text]

Quebec court hands down ‘robust rejection’ of assisted dying criteria. Here’s what to know

Global News

Maham Abedi

Medically-assisted dying became a discussion point on the second day of the 2019 federal election trail, as leaders reacted to a ruling by the Quebec Superior Court that part of the country’s law is “unconstitutional.”

On Wednesday, a Quebec judge ruled that both the province’s and country’s laws on assisted dying were too restrictive and therefore discriminated against some who sought the procedure. . . [Full text]

Dutch Court Clears Doctor in Euthanasia of Dementia Patient

New York Times

Palko Karasz

LONDON — A court in the Netherlands on Wednesday acquitted a doctor who had been accused of unlawful euthanasia for administering a lethal injection to a patient with dementia, a case that raised questions about the clarity of the country’s law in such circumstances.

The patient, 74, who has not been publicly identified, had asked in writing for doctors to end her life if she had to be admitted to a nursing home, and if she thought the time was right. But, when she entered the home, incapacitated, she appeared to have changed her mind, giving “mixed signals,” about her intentions, prosecutors said. . . . [Full text]

Quebec judge invalidates parts of provincial, federal laws for medical aid in dying

Globlal News

Canadian Press

A Quebec Superior Court judge has invalidated sections of both the federal and Quebec laws on medically assisted dying, ruling Wednesday they were too restrictive and therefore unconstitutional.

Justice Christine Baudouin found in favour of two Quebecers struck by incurable degenerative diseases who’d argued they were denied a medically assisted death under laws that are discriminatory. . . [Full text]

Advocates raising money for Saskatoon assisted death facility

Similar to hospice care, The Cider House would provide a homelike space for patients to access the procedure.

Saskatoon Star Phoenix

Amanda Short

A group of health care workers in Saskatoon have started a fundraiser for a dedicated in-patient facility to provide Medical Assistance in Death (MAiD).

Similar to hospice care, The Cider House would provide a homelike space for patients to access the procedure, staffed by either a doctor or nurse practitioner and a team of end-of-life doulas. . . [Full text]

The Role of Nurses When Patients Decide to End Their Lives

Some hospitals and hospices have policies that forbid nurses to be part of the process or even to discuss end-of-life options.

New York Times

Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi

When Ben Wald, 75, was dying of cancer in 2012, he wanted to use Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act to receive a prescription for a lethal medication that would end his life. His hospice nurse, Linda, was part of the discussion and provided both information and support, said his wife, Pam Wald, of Kings Valley, Ore.

His colon cancer had spread to his lungs, and his weight dropped from 180 to 118 pounds. He struggled to speak or eat.

When he was ready to end his life, the couple wanted Linda with them, but the hospice organization she worked for did not allow it, Mrs. Wald said. The organization allowed other hospice workers, such as social workers and massage therapists, to be present, but not the doctors or nurses it employed. . . [Full text]

End of Life clinic sees 15% rise in euthanasia requests

Times NL

Janene Pieters

The number of euthanasia requests submitted to the End of Life Clinic in The Hague this year increased by 15 percent compared to last year. According to the clinic, officially called the Euthanasia Expertise Center from Wednesday, the increase is due to the judiciary’s harsher attitude towards euthanasia, the Volkskrant reports.

The clinic was established in 2012 as a safety net for patients whose own doctor will not listen to their request for euthanasia. A few years ago the number of euthanasia requests to the clinic seemed to stabilize at around 210 a month. . . . [Full text]

Australia’s legislative laboratory for euthanasia

BioEdge

Michael Cook

The Labor-majority Parliament of the Australian state of Victoria passed assisted dying legislation in December 2017. This came into effect in June and the first patient has already died. Applications from a dozen or so Victorians have already been approved. Two other Labor states are also debating euthanasia – and it appears that their legislation will be even more permissive than Victoria’s.

According to critics of euthanasia interviewed by The Australian, this is “death creep”, the slippery slope in action.

“There is serious concern about this slippage,” the chair of the Australian Medical Association’s ethics and medico legal committee, Chris Moye, says. “A lot of this (change) was happening even before the Victorian law, which is only two months old, has actually been tested. At this point, we haven’t seen how assisted dying works in Victoria and yet the slippage is happening across these various jurisdictions. I think there are two reasons: people were always going to be looking at it (the Victorian law) and the tendency always is to relax legislation.”

Critics focus on details of a proposed bill in the parliament of Western Australia. In Victoria, doctors are not allowed to raise the topic of assisted dying. But in WA, doctors would be permitted to suggest the possibility of euthanasia and no specialist has to be involved.

Conscientious objection is more difficult as well. In Victoria, objecting doctors are not obliged to refer the person on; in WA they would be.

In Queensland, a parliamentary committee is studying draft legislation. This is even more permissive than Victoria’s or WA’s. There is no time requirement – only that the patient have an incurable terminal illness which is causing intolerable and enduring suffering.

However, Professor Ben White, who helped write Queensland draft bill,  dismisses fears of a “slippery slope”. “When people talk about a slippery slope in terms of the law, they are talking about law X in a particular state or country that is enacted and over time gets changed,” he says. “We live in a federation … and there are differences in laws from one state to another, reflecting a range of factors, including geography. What might be appropriate for a state like Victoria might … require different solutions in Western Australia or Queensland.”


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David Seymour hits back at National MP seeking ‘protections’ for institutions over euthanasia

News Hub

Zane Small

David Seymour, whose proposed assisted dying law is going through Parliament, has hit back at a National MP asking for institutions like hospices to have the right to conscientiously object. 

Seymour, leader of the ACT Party, responded by saying his End of Life Choice Bill “doesn’t require any organisation to do anything other than the Ministry of Health”. 

“You can’t really be exempted from something you’re not required to do in the first place, but that seems to be what they’re asking for,” he told Newshub. . . [Full text]