Covenant Health in Edmonton. On Dec. 3, Covenant Health released a revised MAiD policy after consultations with more than 100 individuals and groups including doctors, Catholic bishops, Alberta Health Services, the Alberta government, patient advisers, families, ethicists and community members. Photo from Grandin Media

Covenant Health revises assisted suicide policy

By  Thandie Konguavi, Canadian Catholic News
  • December 14, 2018

EDMONTON – Citing the needs of fragile patients, Covenant Health has clarified how assessments are done in its facilities for patients who want to end their lives under provisions of Canada’s assisted suicide and euthanasia law.

The change comes after the Catholic health-care provider came under fire for making some patients undergo the assessments in public areas outside hospitals.

Legalized in 2016, the assisted suicide law allows a physician to administer a lethal medication or provide the means for a patient to do so. However, the law goes against Covenant Health’s mission and Catholic ethical tradition, “to uphold the inherent dignity of every human being throughout the entire continuum of life from conception to natural death.”

Last year at least two patients had their MAiD assessments done outside in public areas around Covenant Health facilities. Since then, every patient exploring assisted suicide has had their assessment completed on site.

On Dec. 3, Covenant Health went further. It released a revised MAiD policy after consultations with more than 100 individuals and groups including doctors, Catholic bishops, Alberta Health Services, the Alberta government, patient advisers, families, ethicists and community members.

Under the policy, witnessing and signing of legal documents and assessments of eligibility can take place on Covenant Health sites. Patients deemed eligible for medically induced death would be transferred to other facilities.

“It’s not a starting point of ‘Well, we don’t do that,’” said Gordon Self, chief ethics officer for the Catholic health-care provider, which runs 17 facilities located in 12 communities across Alberta.

“It’s a starting point of trying to understand where a person’s coming from and tending to some of their own inner thoughts and concerns. And then, if they are interested in pursuing a service which we don’t provide — whether it’s MAiD or cardiac surgery — there’d be appropriate referral mechanisms.”

Critics welcomed the new policy, but said it doesn’t go far enough.

Sandra Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare, wants to see provisions made to allow assisted deaths on Covenant Health sites, not just the assessments, especially in rural Alberta where health care options are limited.

“If the physicians don’t feel it’s something they can do — they have moral objections to it — allow other health-care professionals to accommodate it by having a specific area, or room, especially in rural communities,” Azocar said.

(Grandin Media)

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