Fraser Health’s decision to have hospices offer medically assisted dying prompted a couple hundred people to gather Saturday to discuss how to fight back.
A Saturday evening meeting about the local health authority allowing medical assistance in dying (MAiD) included a discussion on whether there’s a possible legal case, and what people, hospice societies and volunteers can do if they disagree with the health authority.
All B.C. health authorities have said their various facilities would provide MAiD. Fraser Health funds the hospice residence near Langley Memorial Hospital where terminally ill people are able to receive care. The society has offices and space for its various bereavement programs at 20660 48th Ave. and has a contract with Fraser Health to provide volunteers for the residence.
The Feb. 10 meeting was announced Feb. 8 and included Langley-Aldergrove MP Mark Warawa; Langley MLA Mary Polak; Mike Krabbendam, administrator at Manoah Manor (seniors care home in Langley City); and Janice Strukoff on behalf of Delta Hospice. Strukoff has called the Fraser Health decision bullying.
“This battle isn’t over. It’s just begun,” Warawa said at the meeting.
The meeting was organized through the Association for Reformed Political Action ARPA, a non-partisan Christian group that wants biblical perspective in government. A video of it has been posted on Warawa’s Facebook page.
Langley Hospice Society president Kathy Derksen and executive director Nancy Panchuk attended the meeting.
“This past few weeks has been extremely stressful for us,” Derksen said to the crowd.
The society has been hearing from members of the community that they may no longer donate and some others that they may no longer volunteer.
The society has fundraised to build a stand-alone hospice facility near Langley Memorial Hospital but is still fundraising to outfit the building.
“We are ready to go into building permit” and hope to start construction in late spring, Derksen said.
When MAiD was first law, Fraser Health consulted with stakeholders and agreed it would not be imposed on hospice and palliative care facilities.
Then on Dec. 19, 2017, the health authority issued a new directive that MAiD would be done in hospices under certain circumstances.
To minimize unnecessary transfers, Fraser Health also said it would not transfer patients to hospices wth the “sole purposes of receiving an assisted dying procedure,” she said quoting the health authority notification.
This time there was no consultation and faith-based hospices were exempted from the policy change, she added.
“Personally speaking, I believe this exemption to be somewhat discriminatory,” she said at the Sunday meeting.
Warawa told the Langley Advance last week that MAiD is a legal right of Canadians, but it should not be done in hospice and palliative care facilities because they are not supposed to hasten nor postpone death.
“They have that legal right and they should be respected and honoured in that process,” he said. “But it just should not be happening in a hospice facility.”
People can be transferred to other facilities for MAiD just like they would be if they needed other medical procedures like an x-ray, he added.
The B.C. government at the time MAiD came into law was Liberal, Polak’s party. It has since changed to an NDP government.
She noted that then health minister Terry Lake was open to discussion and that led to the faith-based hospices being exempted. Polak would argue that exemption option should extend to other hospice/palliative groups.
“This goes way beyond people who are traditionally pro-life,” she said about those who disagree with the health authority.
Langley’s Manoah Manor is the private-pay seniors facility that was founded by Canadian Christian Reformed Churches in the Fraser Valley.
Krabbendam told of the kind of disturbing incident that could happen at a facility, such as a resident contacting a doctor who provided MAiD and does it in the facility without staff’s knowledge. This would be allowed because of private laws but would have a significant impact on the staff and others who know the resident. [Clarification: the original version of the story incorrectly said such an incident happened. The incident was cited as an example of what could happen.]
“Life is not something you play with,” he commented.
He advocated for MAiD to take place in other locations, noting most MAiD take place in hospitals or people’s homes.
“Why the push for hospice. Why the push for long-term care? Is it money?” he commented.
The facility is private pay but what Fraser Health does affects the manor because it has licensing authority. It does palliative care and now has an MAiD conscientious objector component in its procedures.
ARPA has produced a video on palliative care, some of which was shown that evening. It includes Dr. Neil Hilliard. He resigned from Fraser Health recently as the director of palliative care because of the MAiD policy change.
Emcee Tamara Jansen told the audience that often people don’t understand they have options other than MAiD.
Fort Langley-Aldergrove MLA Rich Coleman did not attend but wrote to the organizers to voice his opposition.
“It is wrong,” Coleman said. “There are facilities already available to people who choose to end their life with medical assistance. There is no need to extend this service to hospice.”
The decision “demeans” the efforts of hospice, volunteers and donors, he added.
Polak and Strukoff suggested people write to politicians, opposition politicians and health critics, hospice societies, and newspapers to voice their support for hospice/palliative care groups and against imposing MAiD.