The Irene Thomas Hospice in Delta, B.C., has been at the centre of an assisted suicide debate. Agnieszka Ruck

Court deals blow to Delta hospice

By  Agnieszka Ruck, Canadian Catholic News
  • June 17, 2020

VANCOUVER -- The Delta Hospice Society is considering appealing a B.C. Supreme Court decision blocking its members from voting to change its constitution in an effort to keep assisted suicide out of the facility.

The B.C. Supreme Court decision was delivered June 12. According to former board member Christopher Pettypiece, who filed the petition, the court stopped a June 15 meeting that would have launched a mail-in vote asking membership if they were interested in becoming a Christian society. Faith-based organizations are currently exempt from the mandate to allow assisted suicide on their premises.

Pettypiece also said the judge said the board acted in bad faith and manipulated the vote by rejecting some membership applications to the society. 

“We’re delighted with the outcome,” Pettypiece told the Delta Optimist.

But Delta Hospice Society president Angelina Ireland told The B.C. Catholic an appeal is being considered.

“The Delta Hospice Society is a private society — not public,” she said.

In an affidavit filed to the B.C. Supreme Court, Ireland argued the society’s acceptance of certain membership applications, and its rejection of 310 of them, was in line with the Societies Act.

The Delta Hospice Society has been under fire after steadfastly refusing to permit assisted suicide and euthanasia in the Irene Thomas Hospice in Delta. (The society oversees the 10-bed hospice as well as a charity thrift shop and various community programs for the very ill and dying and their families.)

Ireland and hospice founder Nancy Macey maintain assisted suicide is contrary to the aims of hospice care and the society’s constitution. The mail-in ballot would have asked the 1,500 members of the society if they were in favour of becoming a Christian society. Two-thirds of voters have to be in favour to effect any change.

“We are highly concerned with the lack of justice in the court system today,” Ireland said in response to the court decision.

When B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced in February that $1.5 million in government funding would be completely withdrawn from the hospice, he accused the society of withholding patients’ medical rights.

“Putting the patient first is what matters most,” said Dix. “No organization can influence this decision or impose it. I respect anyone’s right to disagree, and no one has ever required hospice staff to deliver medical assistance in dying, but they must allow eligible residents who want the service to access it.”

While that conversation has been blocked from the ballot box, it has been playing out in the public arena. Hundreds of people were seen protesting the Delta Hospice Society board at a Ladner, B.C., park June 13, wearing masks and carrying slogans including “My Life My Choice” and “Save our hospice! Choice for ALL!”

Pettypiece and MLA Ian Paton were among those at the rally.

“I stand in solidarity with the hospice staff, volunteers and donors who have publicly denounced the cynical gamesmanship of the current hospice board. It’s time for Angelina Ireland to do the right thing and resign as chair of the board and give this hospice back to the people of Delta,” said Paton, the Delta Optimist reported.

But a sizeable number of people support the hospice’s stance on euthanasia. An online petition by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition supporting the hospice and opposing assisted suicide in hospice facilities has more than 26,000 signatures.

The amended constitution of the society would have included the following clause in the mandate: “to fulfill God’s calling to serve the sick and dying, and to follow Christ’s teachings and example in all we do.”

Before the court decision, Ireland said the move to a Christian society shows the hospice is committed to continuing what it has done for the community for nearly 30 years.

“We have taken the very strong position that we do not want to have euthanasia in the hospice, that we will not promote it as a private society, and the basis of that feeling, which we believe from our membership as well as from ourselves, is Christian-based,” Ireland said.

Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, has spoken out against imposing assisted suicide in hospice and palliative care settings where “compassionate caregivers ... are committed to making the final stages of life for the elderly, sick and suffering meaningful and dignified.”

(The B.C. Catholic)

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