Angelina Ireland, left, and the Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner, B.C. Right photo courtesy of Delta Hospice Society

Cancer survivor fights for hospice’s future

By  Agnieszka Ruck, Canadian Catholic News
  • January 30, 2020

VANCOUVER -- Angelina Ireland first learned about Delta Hospice five years ago.

Back then, she was on a “cancer journey” and seeking help, healing and resources to cope with her difficult diagnosis. She found support in a Living With Cancer support group offered by the Delta Hospice Society, headquartered in Ladner, B.C.

“It has a very special place in my heart,” she told The B.C. Catholic. “I have known friends who were not successful in their cancer journey and passed away in this hospice.”

Ireland beat her cancer and a short time later decided to give back to the community that had been there for her. She joined the society’s board of directors and later became the president of an institution that for over 25 years has provided programs and compassionate care for the sick and dying.

“It is an incredibly special place that’s been created,” she says.

Now that incredibly special place is facing threats and backlash. The Fraser Health Authority and Health Minister Adrian Dix are pressuring the society to provide assisted suicide at the 10-bed Irene Thomas Hospice, something Ireland says is contrary to the hospice’s constitution.

“It’s been extremely difficult on many fronts,” she said. “First of all, you’re standing up to the big government. We’re just a little 10-bed hospice but we’re standing on what we believe to be correct, what we believe to be true. ... We believe we are following on what palliative hospice care truly is.”

The community has become deeply divided over the issue. Ireland said the hospice society has wholehearted supporters as well as strident opponents. She and other staff members have received personal threats on social media.

“It’s been difficult to be called a monster and to be called a horrible person. All we’re trying to do is truly protect the vulnerable,” she said. 

She will tell you, as she has explained many times in the last couple of months, that hospice and palliative care are “diametrically opposed” to assisted suicide. 

She added that anyone who wants an assisted suicide can obtain one at Delta Hospital, just a few hundred metres away.

“They tell us if we’re getting taxpayer money, we have to” provide assisted suicide, Ireland said. But “the people we take care of are taxpayers too. We are on the side of the taxpayers who want to access hospice palliative care.”

The Ladner hospice only has 10 beds and Ireland hopes it can retain the right to use all of them solely for hospice care. She, on behalf of the hospice, made an offer to the Fraser Health Authority Jan. 15 to forego $750,000 of federal funding in exchange to continue operating without euthanasia on site.

The health authority verbally rejected her offer but it has been asked to reconsider.

In a Dec. 23 letter provided to The B.C. Catholic by Ireland, Fraser Health gives the hospice a deadline of Feb. 3 to comply with the assisted dying mandate.

“Fraser Health’s expectation is that the society will immediately comply with both the ministry policy and Fraser Health policy such that the society will permit the provision of MAiD (Medical Aid in Dying) at the hospice ... If such compliance is not obtained by February 3, 2020, Fraser Health will consider the society to be in default of its contractual obligations under the agreement and reserves all of its rights and remedies, under the agreement, the lease between Fraser Health and the society dated Sept. 10, 2008, relating to the land on which the hospice sits, and otherwise.”

“We’ve been pushed into a corner,” said Ireland. “There is no need for this kind of treatment. All we’ve ever wanted to do is take care of people.”

The Delta Hospice Society was founded in 1991 on the kitchen table of area resident Nancy Macey. She was personally opposed to assisted suicide and was a long-time champion of palliative care in the region as the hospice’s director until she was fired by a new pro-assisted suicide board in September 2019.

Assisted suicide was legalized in Canada in 2016. The Fraser Health Authority has pointed out Delta Hospice is not a faith-based organization, and cannot opt out, though individuals and volunteers who have a “conscientious objection” to assisted suicide do not have to participate in assessing eligibility or administering it.

(The B.C. Catholic)

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