BC Hospice Continues Legal Battle Over Euthanasia

August 19, 2020 Updated: August 19, 2020

A B.C. hospice that found itself in hot water with the provincial government for refusing to make provisions for medically assisted suicide got a favourable court decision this week that allows it to continue its fight to keep euthanasia off its premises.

“We’re waiting now for our hearing to be scheduled, and we know that in our hearing we’re going to be able to argue everything that’s relevant to this case,” Delta Hospice Society (DHS) president Angelina Ireland said in an interview.

The B.C. government mandated that all hospices without a religious affiliation must provide medical assistance in dying (MAiD) on-site if more than half of their funding comes from taxpayers.

The DHS, which governs the privately operated Irene Thomas Hospice in Delta, is not affiliated with any religion but is opposed to physician-assisted suicide on moral and philosophical grounds. It offered to forfeit $750,000 in annual public funding in order to continue operations without providing MAiD on-site.

However, its offer was rejected by the provincial government and the Fraser Health Authority, which has jurisdiction over publicly funded health care in the region where the hospice is located. Instead, they said funding would continue until Feb. 25, 2021, after which the hospice would lose its licence and be unable to continue operations.

Former board members and pro-euthanasia advocates went a step further by launching a website and an associated Facebook page to organize the public to pay $10 each to join DHS. The society refused to grant memberships to those it knew to favour euthanasia on-site. Then on June 12, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sheila Fitzpatrick ordered DHS to allow membership to anyone who paid membership fees, including 310 people who had been refused.

Lawyers for DHS argued before the B.C. Court of Appeal that the hospice was a private institution, not a public one, and that if B.C.’s Societies Act permitted such an order, it would violate the Charter freedoms of association and conscience.

On Aug. 17, the court announced it would allow the appeal, but no date has been set for hearings.

Ireland explained in a press release that the DHS had resisted “a public and coordinated campaign to infiltrate the Delta Hospice Society and overwhelm the existing membership with those who do not share our constitution. Their whole purpose was to reverse our policy on euthanasia.”

She added: “The Fitzpatrick judgment gave carte blanche to organized groups to perform hostile takeovers of private societies that hold minority views. It would mean thousands of societies can now be taken over by any organized group of a few hundred people. That is not how a free society is supposed to work.”

The petitioners against DHS are former board members Jim Levin, Sharon Farrish, and Chris Pettypiece. Their petition stated: “The board of the Society has manipulated the membership list to stack the deck, by holding back up to six months, and ultimately rejecting without basis, hundreds of membership applications by community members concerned by the direction of the Society, all the while selectively accepting members supportive of their philosophy and direction.”

They continued: “The Society has now given minimum notice of an extraordinary meeting. It is intended to change what has always been an open, secular community organization into a closed, religious organization.”

The Epoch Times reached out to Farrish and Pettypiece for comment, but they declined. Alex Muir, co-chair of the Vancouver chapter of Dying With Dignity, told The Epoch Times that having euthanasia access onsite is important.

“Faith-based organizations are allowed to exempt themselves from providing medical assistance in dying if it’s against their beliefs. We don’t believe that should be allowed when they are publicly funded, and we don’t believe the government should be using taxpayer dollars to allow that to happen,” Muir said.

Dying With Dignity has launched a petition signed by over 1,500 people that calls on the province to end the MAiD exemption given to publicly funded faith-based facilities. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has launched its own petition against forcing hospices to perform euthanasia, which has been signed by over 27,000 people.

Ireland says the DHS membership itself numbers 1,500 people. She says everyone who receives care at the hospice has access to MAiD, though they must be transferred to a nearby hospital.

Muir says that’s more than an inconvenience. “Here [patients] are comfortable in this hospice, and they’re shipped off to some other place, where they don’t know anybody, to receive medical assistance in dying. It’s cruel to the patient and upsetting to the family as well.”

Ireland told The Epoch Times that hospice care differs from euthanasia and that DHS performs a service that is harder for Canadians to find.

“You’d think that these were 10 magical beds the way that everybody has been after us, and the government. It’s 10 beds that we’re trying to protect for palliative care in this province, and that is all we’re trying to do,” she says.

“We don’t want to battle with anybody. And we’re being forced to battle not only with the provincial government but with a campaign of euthanasia activists trying every which way they can to get into our hospice and force us to kill our patients. And that’s what we refuse to do.”

Dame Cicely Saunders founded the world’s first hospice in England in 1967. Emphasizing the importance of palliative care in modern medicine, she said, “The care of the dying demands all that we can do to enable patients to live until they die.” “Attitudes which promote death rather than affirm life are the ultimate abandonment,” she also noted.