St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver. CCN Photo/Terry O'Neill

Vancouver Catholic hospital faces MAiD ‘conundrum’

By  Terry O'Neill, Canadian Catholic News
  • June 19, 2024

More than half a year has now passed since the British Columbia government ordered Vancouver Coastal Health to build a euthanasia facility next to St. Paul’s Hospital, thereby doing an end run around the Catholic hospital’s principled opposition to assisted suicide.

But despite this passage of time, a host of important questions remain unanswered about Vancouver Coastal Health’s construction and operation of the MAiD facility and its physical connection to St. Paul’s.

As well, nagging questions remain about the moral implications, on the St. Paul’s situation, of Church teaching that prohibits “collaboration” between Catholic and other institutions “when it involves referrals for persons who request euthanasia.” It’s a vexing issue that even the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s pro-life chaplain says “is a conundrum.”

The health authority has failed to answer exactly how the euthanasia facility will be connected to St. Paul’s, how it will operate and when it will open. A recent tour of the exterior of St. Paul’s found no signs of construction, even though the “clinical space” (as the province has called it) is scheduled to open in August.

Similarly, the Ministry of Health has repeatedly failed to provide information about the process by which it obtained land on the St. Paul’s campus to build the euthanasia facility. The Archdiocese’s pro-life chaplain, Fr. Larry Lynn, said the government did not take the land from Providence and was unable to identify the owner of the property from which the land was taken.

An unanswered question involves the new St. Paul’s Hospital. Providence itself has not answered repeated requests from The B.C. Catholic for information about whether the provincial government has ordered the construction of a euthanasia facility at the new St. Paul’s.

Lynn said Providence doesn’t want such a facility but that the issue is clearly “on the table.”

Concerns have been expressed that Providence’s official policy on euthanasia and responding to MAiD requests is in contradiction to Catholic teaching. The policy states that its purpose is to provide “a consistent ethical and compassionate approach” when responding to someone who has requested MAiD, within the context of MAiD’s “incompatibility (with) Catholic teaching.”  Among its principles is that patients and their families’ personal beliefs “are respected and honoured.” 

The policy states, in part, that patients should be supported in a non-judgmental way, that their request for MAiD be engaged in a timely manner, and that Providence staff “will liaise” with Vancouver Coastal staff to ensure a safe transfer of care to a MAiD provider.

Lynn said he has heard from many Catholics who have such concerns, and as a result met with Archbishop J. Michael Miller on May 31 to seek clarity on the issue. 

“We are faced with a conundrum,” he said. “It’s a difficult and intricate problem, with no easy answer.”

Lynn described as “legitimate and valid” the moral arguments against any sort of cooperation between St. Paul’s and Vancouver Coastal Health and stressed that Providence had opposed and was continuing to fight back against euthanasia. At the same time, he also said Providence is acting “in charity and justice” and cannot keep people seeking MAiD in the hospital against their will.

He agreed Providence is attempting to make the best of a bad situation. 

“That’s where it’s at... It’s just an awful place to be.”

Catholics need not despair, he said, pointing out they have powerful spiritual weapons to wield against the forces that are attacking society’s moral fabric.

“Every time I speak, I say the only answer, the only real thing we have here is prayer and fasting,” Lynn said. “That’s what we can do. And we need to do that, more and more. We have to gather the people, more and more... and we all need to be in this together, that’s the truth.”

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