A weekend forum on medically assisted dying in Fraser Health Authority hospices drew about 300 people to Credo Christian Elementary School Saturday night in Langley, including MP Mark Warawa, MLA Mary Polak and representatives from the Langley and Delta hospices.
None of them appeared to be supporters of the recent edict by the regional authority to allow hospice patients to opt for medical assistance in dying, otherwise known as MAiD.
Warawa, who posted a live video feed of the event to his Facebook page, was one of several speakers to argue the FHA decision to allow hospice patients to opt for medically assisted death violates the principle that death is neither hastened nor postponed by a hospice.
“That (permitting MAiD) will destroy palliative care as it has developed,” Warawa warned.
The event was arranged by the Langley chapter of Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA), a national lobby group with a stated aim “to educate, equip, and encourage Reformed Christians to political action and to bring a biblical perspective to our civil authorities.”
“It’s not just a religious argument, this is a philosophical argument that underpins everything hospice and palliative care is about,” Polak said.
“To say that you are going to place medical assistance in dying — or let’s call it what it is, killing people. Sorry, but that is what it is — (and decide that) you’re going to put that into a hospice palliative circumstance, is to completely contradict what palliative care is to begin with,” Polak said.
Langley Hospice board chair Kathy Derksen told the meeting the FHA edict has put the hospice “in a very difficult position, a position we do not want to be in.”
Earlier this month, the Times reported that some volunteers have informed the Langley Hospice Society they won’t work if medically assisted deaths are permitted at the local 10-bed hospice facility.
The society has also heard from some donors who have said they will not contribute to the society because of the directive that was issued in December.
READ MORE: Updated: Langley hospice losing volunteers, donors over medically assisted death issue
“This past few weeks has been extremely stressful for us,” Derksen said.
“We find ourselves being placed between a rock and hard place, which is not a good place to be.”
Derksen said the society is worried that the controversy will make it harder to fundraise in the community at a time when work is about to begin on building a new freestanding Langley hospice, with a schedule that calls for obtaining a building permit and starting construction in late spring.
“We really don’t know what consequence the Fraser Health directive will have for us,” Derksen said.
She said the society would have more to say about the subject in the near future.
Janice Strukoff, the administrative leader for the Delta hospice, which has openly opposed the new policy, said until last December, people in hospices who wanted medically assisted deaths were simply transferred out to other facilities.
Strukoff said 25 people in FHA region hospices who opted for MAiD were transported out over the 18 months leading up to the edict (the authority has confirmed those figures).
“This (transfers) was an excellent solution,” Strukoff said.
She compared it to situations where patients are moved out of hospice when they require surgery or some other hospital procedure.
Strukoff said the change in policy could make some people afraid to access hospice and create “moral distress” that would cause staff and volunteers to leave.
Jim Sinclair, the chair of the Fraser Health Authority board of directors, has defended the directive, saying the point was to allow hospice patients in the FHA the right to exercise their legal right to MAiD without forcing them to relocate to another facility.
“They have a legal right,” Sinclair said earlier this month.
We’re saying we’re not going to make them leave (if they exercise that right).”
In a 2015 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the parts of the Criminal Code that prohibited medical assistance in dying would need to change to satisfy the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In 2016, the federal government passed legislation governing MAiD.
Under the new law, doctors may provide medical assistance in dying to capable, consenting adults who have a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring, intolerable suffering and who are at a point where natural death is reasonably foreseeable.
The FHA has an online MAiD information page at its www.fraserhealth.ca website.