‘It’s Wrong’: BC Hospice Executives Decry Looming Closure of Facility

February 3, 2021 Updated: February 3, 2021

A Vancouver-area hospice is closing due to its refusal to offer medically assisted death, and its hospice society vice-president says the process of how things came to this point “feels very violating.”

The Delta Hospice Society (DHS) had a 35-year lease and a service agreement with the Fraser Health Authority to operate a 10-bed hospice. Its lease and service agreement were revoked because of the facility’s refusal to offer medical assistance in dying (MAiD) on-site, a requirement by the health authority.

As a result, the Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner, B.C. will close, and the society will lose the facility it raised $8.5 million to build in 2008. The building sits on land owned by the health authority, which has given the DHS until the end of March to vacate the hospice.

Last February, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced that the province would cancel $1.5 million in funding for the Irene Thomas Hospice effective Feb. 26 this year, at which time operation of the facility would transfer to Fraser Health.

Danielle Martell, vice-president of the DHS, a non-profit that opened 30 years ago, has strong feelings about the turn of events.

“It is extortion, it’s theft, it’s wrong, it’s a violation,” Martell told The Epoch Times. “The government is coming in and simply stealing our assets. … It feels violating on behalf of our membership and on behalf of the society. … We have built this society, we have protected this society [that has] provided palliative care in the city of Delta.”

The hospice has served layoff notices to 19 full-time staff. On Jan. 14, Fraser Health served notices to patients that they have to move. The patients have a choice to move to nearby Mountain View Manor, which has 10 hospice beds, or to another hospice of their choice.

“They barged into the hospice, they didn’t tell the board at all about what they were doing,” Martell said. “They told our patients that they were going to have to move out of their beds and go over into the long-term care facility at the hospital next door and they could move now or they could move on Feb. 24.”

The Epoch Times reached out to Fraser Health for comment, without success.

After MAiD came into effect in 2016, Irene Thomas Hospice patients who chose to end their lives were transferred to a nearby facility for the service. DHS president Angelina Ireland believes MAiD and palliative care should remain separate.

“Why don’t they just go make a MAiD house in any community that will support it?  No one is stopping them. There is room for both an authentic hospice movement and a MAiD movement—they are two different streams of end-of-life care that the market will bear,” Ireland said.

“Even though all the palliative care associations in the world, including the WHO, state palliative care does not include euthanasia, Canada is spearheading a revolution in the discipline … that will do to every palliative care facility in Canada what has been done to the Delta Hospice Society. They will steal assets, eliminate dissenters, and usher in the dawn of a new palliative care ethos.”

MAiD will be expanded if Bill C-7 passes. The federal legislation would make the procedure available the same day anyone requests it if their death is “reasonably foreseeable.” It would also make euthanasia available 90 days after request for those whose death is not reasonably foreseeable.

Ireland says when patients first arrive at the hospice they often don’t feel well either physically or emotionally, but that state soon improves.

“After a few days with us their medication is sorted out and they feel better, the hope has returned that this portion of their experience can be very good for themselves and their family. But with C-7, the worst day can be their last day,” she said.

Palliative care physician Dr. Neil Hilliard, representing DHS, testified before a Senate committee on Feb. 3, asking that Bill C-7 be amended to make palliative care facilities into “safe spaces” free of obligations to offer MAiD.

According to a joint statement by the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians, MAiD “is not an ‘extension’ of palliative care nor is it one of the tools ‘in the palliative care basket.’ National and international hospice palliative care organizations are unified in the position that MAiD is not part of the practice of hospice palliative care.”

The statement also says that “Less than 30 percent of Canadians have access to high-quality hospice palliative care, yet more than 90 percent of all deaths in Canada would benefit from it.” It notes that MAiD is involved in less than 1.5 percent of all deaths in the country.

Martell says governments have a financial incentive to promote MAiD because it costs about $400 to administer, whereas palliative care has someone in a bed for weeks or months. She said B.C.’s decision to force palliative care facilities to provide MAiD has already caused a “mass exodus” of palliative care workers from the system.

She said membership in the DHS has swelled from 150 to 8,000 since the controversy began, and that the society’s work will continue.

“Palliative care involves spiritual care. It involves things like counselling and bereavement services and services for children and youth, volunteer services. So we’ll still be providing a lot of those services to our community, and we provide those services free of charge,” she said.