Photo courtesy Delta Hospice Society

Editorial: Freedom denied

  • April 8, 2021

The little hospice that refused to give in to the steamrolling politics of so-called “medical assistance in dying” is no more.

The Irene Thomas Hospice in Delta, B.C., was officially taken over on March 29 by the local health authority, which promises to re-open the facility — complete with assisted suicide options — by April 15. It is the end of a long battle for the Delta Hospice Society, which had sought to provide compassionate end-of-life care without resorting to administering lethal injections on-site.

“Now we have nothing,” society president Angelina Ireland told The B.C. Catholic. “Now we have to create ourselves again.”

Appropriate to Easter, perhaps there is a resurrection of sorts to be had for the society, but the odds are sadly stacked against it. Offering people a choice to live in an environment free from the tools of assisted suicide is not government policy and not  considered a good use of taxpayer dollars.

This fight has never had anything to do with religious freedom, but rather of conscience. The hospice never sold itself as a faith-based institution, merely as a place where those with life-threatening illnesses can live “with comfort, meaning, dignity and hope.”

Nor has the hospice ever positioned itself to be a warrior in the euthanasia debate. Ireland always acknowledged that assisted deaths are legal in Canada. “We just want there to be a place you can choose to go if you don’t want (palliative care) where MAiD is available,” she told Register columnist Peter Stockland last year.

The literature from the society is very clear about its definition of end-of-life care: “Palliative care regards dying as a natural process and care intends to neither hasten nor postpone death.” In fact, the hospice didn’t provide medical procedures of any kind, from dialysis to radiation to, yes, even medical assistance in dying. For any of those procedures, a transfer to the local hospital would be arranged.

What sounds like a reasonable approach, though, never cut with the pro-euthanasia advocates who seemingly will not rest until every obstacle to legally-sanctioned MAiD is conquered in the name of personal freedom. The freedom to be against it doesn’t seem to count.

For Angelina Ireland, the battle has been lost, but the war is not entirely over. She may yet pursue legal action against the Fraser Health Authority for terminating the society’s lease and it still runs bereavement programs. Still, she admits losing the hospice has crippled her vision of delivering true palliative care.

In the 10 years the hospice existed, more than 1,700 patients and their families were cared for and comforted, nestled in a small corner of Canada’s west coast. It refused to bend its principles and discovered how heavy the hand of government can be in exercising its will.

We all want to die with dignity. The little B.C. hospice had the right idea about what that means, and it must not be forgotten.

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