The Irene Thomas Hospice in Delta, B.C. Photo by Agnieszka Ruck

Supreme Court deals final blow to hospice society

By  AGNIESZKA RUCK, Canadian Catholic News
  • April 22, 2021

VANCOUVER -- Delta Hospice Society has lost its final legal opportunity to prevent a takeover of its board by euthanasia advocates.

The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed an appeal by the B.C. society in its efforts to become a society that operated on Christian principles and supported life until “natural death,” thus making it exempt from the mandate to allow assisted suicide on its premises.

The Delta Hospice Society had fought to maintain its standing as a hospice that didn’t offer assisted suicide, and after refusing to meet a Feb. 3 deadline from the Fraser Health Authority and Health Minister Adrian Dix to start allowing legal assisted suicides, Fraser Health took control of the building. The society argued the practice is not part of hospice care, and tried various means to escape the mandate, including considering becoming a faith-based organization.Before the controversy, society membership was around 150. It shot up to 1,500 in late 2019 and is now approaching 9,000. As membership requests suddenly increased, including from people board president Angelina Ireland believes are linked to a pro-assisted suicide lobby group, the board tried to limit who was in and who was out. “It appears a strategic campaign to infiltrate the society was planned,” Ireland said.

In B.C. Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals last year, the hospice was told it must allow anyone who applies for membership and pays a nominal fee to become a member, and that to pick and choose members based on other criteria would be in “bad faith” and against its own bylaws.

“Every private society in Canada must now fear that their constitutional rights of freedom of conscience and freedom of association are at risk,” Ireland said.

“By the Supreme Court of Canada deciding to dismiss our case, we have been told in essence that the private is now public and a governing body of an organization is vulnerable to any agenda, special interest group or social media movement. Essentially, it is powerless to define its purposes and protect its assets and its membership.”

Supporters of assisted suicide in the hospice, who have formed a group called Take Back Delta Hospice, are pleased with the court’s ruling.

“What an ordeal it has been to have to fight all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada so that local residents who wish to become members of the society are treated fairly,” spokesperson Chris Pettypiece told media.

The Supreme Court did not provide a reason for dismissing the appeal, as is customary.

“The effects of the decisions in the lower courts seem to me very worrisome,” said Peter Stockland, editor-in-chief of Convivium and a Catholic Register columnist.

“From the documents I’ve read, it appears to mean any private society is vulnerable not only to having its membership taken over by those willing to pay a few bucks to join, but those who join can seek ends that are antithetical to the original mission,” he told The B.C. Catholic.

He suggested, by way of analogy, that a private organization raising funds for cancer research should not be vulnerable to being swamped by members seeking to promote health benefits of smoking.

“Yet that’s what seems to have happened here. A group committed to MAiD (medical assistance in dying) decided to ‘take back’ a hospice society that, in its constitution, is committed to ensuring patients ‘live as fully and as comfortably as possible.’ On what planet can administering MAiD be consistent with ‘living fully and comfortably’? In other words, they ‘took back’ what they never had, and knew full well their intentions violated the beliefs and goals of the Delta Hospice Society.”

Deacon Andrew Bennett, director of the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute, said the ruling could have implications for other organizations. There needs to be room for competing views, he said.

“I think that’s commensurate with living in a democracy.”

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