Nova Scotia hospital forced to provide euthanasia, assisted suicide

Services to be provided in attached building

Arrangement said to preserve 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.

According to NSHA’s Vice President of Health Services and Chief Nursing Executive Tim Guest, euthanasia and assisted suicide will be provided in the Antigonish Health and Wellness Centre, formerly the Martha Center.4

Built in 1961, the Antigonish Health and Wellness Center is attached to St. Martha’s Regional Hospital. In 2009, still known as the Martha Center, it was described as “primarily a professional building” of 92,000 square feet that had undergone major renovations between 2006 and 2009.5

The Sisters of St. Martha have issued a statement:

The Sisters of St Martha were informed that the Nova Scotia Health Authority continues to uphold our Mission Assurance Agreement, while providing access in Antigonish for individuals who request Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID).

The Nova Scotia Health Authority has assured us that Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) will not take place in St. Martha’s Regional Hospital. We do not own St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, or the building called the Antigonish Health and Wellness Center. . . 6

It is not clear from the statements if assessments and preliminaries for euthanasia/assisted suicide will occur in the hospital building, with actual administration of lethal medication taking place in the Health and Wellness Center.

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.

4. 989XFM. Nova Scotia Health Authority allows Medically Assisted Death at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital [Internet]. 2019 Sep 19.

5. Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority. Request for Proposal: Radio Frequency (RF) Wireless Site Survey [Internet]. 2009 Apr 17.

6. Boisvert B. Sisters of St. Martha Media Statement [Internet]. 2019 Sep 19.

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]

Court reinstates lawsuit against Catholic hospital for refusing transgender patient’s surgery

Los Angeles Times

Michael Hiltzik

Stating that California’s interest in fighting discrimination against LGBTQ residents outweighs the right to impose religious standards on healthcare, an appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit against the Catholic Dignity Health hospital chain for barring a hysterectomy for a transgender patient.

The lawsuit was brought by Evan Minton, whose hysterectomy was abruptly canceled by Dignity’s Mercy San Juan Medical Center of Carmichael, Calif., in 2016 when hospital officials learned he was transgender. The hospital took the action to comply with the church’s Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which prohibit sterilization procedures except in very narrow circumstances. . . [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]

Doctor Fired after Suing Catholic Hospital over Assisted Suicide

National Review

Wesley J. Smith

Colorado doctor Barbara Morris wants to assist her patient’s suicide. She works at Centura Health, a Catholic/Seventh Day Adventist-owned hospital that prohibits its employees from participating in assisted suicide, legal in Colorado.

Morris sued to be allowed to participate in her patient’s suicide by doctor — which would not happen in the hospital. The hospital responded by firing Morris for violating the terms of her contract by seeking to engage in acts in the context of her employment that violate the hospital’s religiously based moral beliefs.

Morris contends she can’t be prohibited from assisting her patient’s suicide because the Colorado law only allows health care facilities to opt-out if the suicide will occur on-site. The hospital is seeking shelter in the Trump administration’s medical conscience protection policies.

Expect more of these kinds of disputes as many U.S. hospitals are Catholic or otherwise religiously affiliated with churches that reject abortion and assisted suicide doctrinally. From the Kaiser Health News story:

More doctors and patients in the country are providing and receiving health care subject to religious restrictions. About 1 in 6 acute care beds nationally is in a hospital that is Catholic-owned or -affiliated, said Lois Uttley, a program director for the consumer advocacy group Community Catalyst. In Colorado, one-third of the state’s hospitals operate under Catholic guidelines.

The ACLU has already sued several Catholic hospitals over the last few years seeking to force them to violate Church doctrine on issues ranging from sterilization, to abortion, to sex-change surgeries.

Medical conscience disputes are going to become far more common as health care becomes immersed in our accelerating cultural conflicts and vexing questions of federalism. Bottom line: The ultimate goal of those who seek to force medical professionals and institutions to violate their religious beliefs, I believe, is to drive pro-lifers and Hippocratic Oath-adherents out of medicine.

Firing Doctor, Christian Hospital Sets Off National Challenge To Aid-In-Dying Laws

Kaiser Health News

JoNel  Aleccia

DENVER — A Christian-run health system in Colorado has fired a veteran doctor who went to court to fight for the right of her patient to use the state’s medical aid-in-dying law, citing religious doctrine that describes “assisted suicide” as “intrinsically evil.”

Centura Health Corp. this week abruptly terminated Dr. Barbara Morris, 65, a geriatrician with 40 years of experience, who had planned to help her patient, Cornelius “Neil” Mahoney, 64, end his life at his home. Mahoney, who has terminal cancer, is eligible to use the state’s law, overwhelmingly approved by Colorado voters in 2016.

The growing number of state aid-in-dying provisions are increasingly coming into conflict with the precepts of faith-based hospitals, which oppose the practice on religious grounds. . . [Full text]

Courts hear conscience arguments of pro-life health-care staffers

Even Supreme Court agreed doctors have ‘the right to refrain from abortion’

WND

WND staff

A “conscience rights” rule implemented by the Trump administration that exempts physicians from providing “treatments” that violate religious faith such as abortion has been challenged by lawsuits in New York and California.

CNBC reported the city of San Francisco sued after alleging people could be deprived of health care treatments such as “assisted suicide” because of someone else’s beliefs. . . [Full Text]

Bergenfield Doctor’s Lawsuit Halts NJ Physician-Assisted Suicide Act

Jewish Link

Bracha Schwartz

Rabbi Yosef P. Glassman, MD, of Bergenfield, has won a lawsuit to temporarily stop the New Jersey Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act that had been scheduled to take effect on August 16. The law would allow physicians, under certain conditions, to prescribe drugs to terminally ill patients for the sole purpose of ending their lives. But the battle has just begun.

In an email interview, Rabbi Dr. Glassman explained why he initiated the lawsuit. “I was motivated to act by the chilling prospect of being a part of the suicide process, which strongly conflicted with both my professional and religious values. I was fortunate enough to engage in meaningful discussions with several concerned Jewish community members on the topic, and I decided to take a firm position, being involved in the field of geriatrics. Some people who may oppose my action may say that I want dying patients to suffer, chas v’shalom. Quite the opposite—we as physicians have ample tools to alleviate the suffering for the living, even for the terminally ill, without the need to license suicide.” . . . [Full text]