The council that represents Catholic health institutes in Ontario founded by religious sisters insists that its members will not take part in assisted suicide. Photo by Michael Swan

Catholic hospitals adamant they won’t kill patients

  • March 3, 2016

TORONTO - The parliamentary committee report on how to legalize assisted suicide may want “all publicly funded health care institutions (to) provide medical assistance in dying,” but Ontario Catholic hospitals, nursing homes and health centres aren’t having it.

“We reject any medical procedures that would intentionally terminate a human life,” the Catholic Health Sponsors of Ontario declared in December, two months before a parliamentary committee recommended sweeping new laws to permit broad access to assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Nor will any of the Catholic Health Sponsors’ institutions “directly or explicitly refer a patient to receive this same medical procedure.”

The Catholic Health Sponsors Council represents 25 institutions in Ontario that were founded by seven orders of religious sisters. Collectively, their annual budget is $1.75 billion, they work with more than 1,700 doctors and have nearly 20,000 employees.

The parliamentary committee’s recommendations make no difference in the Catholic stand on putting patients to death, according to Providence Healthcare spokeswoman Beth Johnson.

“We will not offer physicianassisted death at Providence,” wrote Johnson in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

Providence has held a town hall meeting with staff along with more specific meetings with medical staff and senior administrators to re-emphasize the clear Catholic position on physician-assisted suicide.

“Our focus will continue to be on providing exceptional end-oflife care,” said Johnson.

Providence, established in 1857 by the Sisters of St. Joseph, is one of the member institutions of the Catholic Health Sponsors of Ontario.

St. Joseph’s Health Centre just west of downtown Toronto wants to wait to see actual legislation before it comments.

“We want to better understand what the federal government is going to do,” said the hospital’s corporate communications and public affairs department.

Like Providence, St. Joseph’s puts its focus on palliative care.

“The focus of care is on relief of distressing medical symptoms and the provision of psychological, social and spiritual well-being. The approach to care is holistic, patient-centred, family focused and embraces the mission and values of St. Joseph’s Health Centre and the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association,” says the St. Joseph’s web site.

The Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association definition of palliative and hospice care makes no reference to medically aided suicide. Palliative care exists “to relieve suffering and improve the quality of living and dying,” according to the association.

Dying With Dignity Canada continues to demand that Catholic hospitals and nursing homes set their ethics and principles aside.

“We believe that all publicly funded institutions, including Catholic hospitals, hospices and health authorities, need to respect Canadians’ Charter rights for assisted death if the person meets the eligibility criteria,” Shanaaz Gokool, chief executive officer of Dying With Dignity Canada, told PostMedia. “We see this to be one of the most critical issues around access.”

Ontario’s 2006 Local Health System Integration Act specifically ensures religious organizations are not required to provide a service that is contrary to their mission and values. It also guarantees rights of conscience for those who work in health care will be respected.

The Catholic Health Sponsors do envision a “protocol for safe transfer of care when a person, after receiving relevant information to support the process of informed consent, chooses to receive care elsewhere.”

“Assisted death is morally incompatible with the mission and values of our Catholic health providers,” said the Catholic Health Sponsors. “We will not abandon the person in our care. We believe that supporting those patients who are vulnerable with a non-judgmental, non-coercive approach will assist them to question their request for assisted death and to explore other alternative forms of medical care.”

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