Delta Hospice Society executive director Nancy Macey speaks to the Fraser Health board Wednesday. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Hospice groups differ on Fraser Health’s assisted-dying directive

South Surrey's Peace Arch Hospice supports decision to allow MAiD in facility

The Delta Hospice Society’s campaign against Fraser Health’s controversial directive to allow medically assisted death (MAiD) services in hospice facilities is not backed by the Peace Arch Hospice Society.

Delta Hospice Society director Nancy Macey attended the Fraser Health board of directors’ February meeting – held last week at Hazelmere Golf and Tennis Club in South Surrey – and told directors the federal government’s 2016 decision to legalize MAiD has “already divided volunteers, staff, families and communities.”

Macey told the board that the Delta Hospice has raised more than $20 million over the years, and that in light of the board’s directive, the hospice knows first-hand the “barriers that will exist with fundraising, donations, recruiting volunteers and staff.”

“Did you know that many of the faith organizations and people who respect the sanctity of life are where many of our volunteers come from and who make many of our donations?” Macey asked the board.

However, PAH society executive director Beth Kish told Peace Arch News Wednesday that neither Fraser Health, or the PAH society, would ever request volunteers to be part of the MAiD process.

“That point, to us, is (moot),” Kish said. “We make it very clear when we train our volunteers that we do not impose our own personal, spiritual beliefs or values on the patients that we serve.

“We come to our clients to support them on their journey and never pass judgment. We learn that in our basic training.”

During the Feb. 7 public board meeting, which was attended by approximately 100 people, Fraser Health chairman Jim Sinclair said there have been more than 800 assisted deaths in B.C. since federal legislation was passed.

“It’s a legitimate choice and we have an obligation to provide that choice, and provide that choice in the best possible way with the patient in mind,” he said. “We as a health board look at these decisions through the eyes of the patients and what their needs are, what’s best for them.”

Sinclair said Fraser Health has not imposed anything on the Delta Hospice site, and acknowledged that “whatever the solution we come up with, not everybody is going to be in favour of it… We’re all going to try and do what’s best for the patient.”

Macey asked the board to consider that hospice palliative care is a “faith with very clear principals of not hastening or postponing death. This does not differ from faith-based institutions. Faith is a belief system. Exemptions should apply to all hospice palliative care sites.”

“While one to five per cent of the population seek euthanasia, the focus needs to be on the 95 to 99 per cent of people who are seeking hospice palliative care,” Macey added.

Macey told the directors that she does not oppose access to medical assistance in dying, but an “excellent solution” is to transfer people out of hospice palliative care beds to a separate location to receive the service.

Sinclair, however, said transfers from hospice beds to a designated location for MAiD is not the best quality of care for the patient.

“I couldn’t imagine the people I loved, who chose this, being picked up and taken away from the people who actually care about them,” Sinclair said.

Kish told PAN the hospice supports Fraser Health’s decision to allow MAiD services to take place at hospice facilities.

“It’s our belief that hospice is our patients’ last home in a lot of cases, and we support Fraser Health in their decision not to make patients move to another floor, or another room at already a difficult time for them,” Kish said.

Kish added that the hospice board has discussed the topic “at lengths,” and determined that they will base their support on patient needs.

“We’re not responsible for medical procedures. We’re there to support emotionally and the psychosocial end of life care. We’re just there to support on whatever that journey looks like to them. It’s their journey, not ours,” Kish said.

Some volunteers have informed the Langley Hospice Society they won’t work under a Fraser Health Authority directive that says medically assisted deaths must be permitted at the 10-bed hospice facility.

The Langley society has also heard from some donors who have said they will not contribute to the society under the directive that was issued in December.

Kish told PAN that Peace Arch Hospice does not have concerns with potential backlash from donors.

The province defines palliative care as specialized medical care for people with serious illness. Care can be provided wherever the client is living, whether at home, in hospice, an assisted living residence or a residential care facility, according to the province.