Canadian hospice forced to close after refusing to offer assisted dying

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A hospice in Canada has lost its funding and is being forced to close after refusing to offer and perform medically assisted suicides.

The Irene Thomas Hospice in Delta, British Columbia, will lose $1.5 million in funding and will no longer be permitted to operate as a hospice as of February 25, 2021. Fraser Health Authority, one of the six public health care authorities in the province, announced on Tuesday that it would be ending its relationship with the hospice over its refusal to provide medically assisted deaths to its patients. 

Per Fraser Health's contract with the Delta Hospice Society, which administers the Irene Thomas Hospice, a one-year notice had to be provided before funding could be withdrawn without cause.

"We have made every effort to support the board to come into compliance and they have been clear that they have no intention to," said British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix in a statement.

Dix said that the decision to pull funding was taken "reluctantly," and that "when the role of the Delta Hospice Society concludes, patients in publicly funded hospice care will again be able to fully access their medical rights."

A press release from Delta Hospice said that while it is not affiliated with a religion, the board of the Delta Hospice Society is opposed to medically assisted death on moral and philosophical grounds. 

"Delta Hospice officials were shocked and outraged this week by the Fraser Health Authority's blatant move to cut off all discussions and close the facility because it wants the hospice to provide MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) at every facility," said the statement. 

"The Irene Thomas Hospice is dedicated to allowing patients access to expert symptom management for physical, emotional and spiritual distress. It provides comfort, meaning dignity and hope as one dies a natural death." 

In September 2016, about three months after medically assisted suicide became legal in Canada, Fraser Health introduced a new policy which required all hospices receiving more than 50% of provincial funding for their beds to offer the procedure to their residents. The hospice receives $1.4 million of its $3 million operating budget from the Fraser Health Authority, and Fraser Health funds virtually all of the beds at Irene Thomas Hospice. 

Angelina Ireland, president of the Delta Hospice Society, said in the press release that Fraser Health ignored her request to lower the amount of funding to below the 50% threshold, and also forbade the hospice from finding another partner to work with. 

After the contract with Fraser Health ends, the public health authority intends to take over the buildings that currently compose the Irene Thomas Hospital and bring in medically assisted dying. 

"By refusing to allow us to find another partner, [Fraser Health is] basically forcing us to be in default of our lease--because in order to have our lease, we have to be a hospice," Ireland said. 

"They feel that they can just come in and seize our assets." 

Ireland told CNA that although the facilities are on land that is leased from the government, the buildings were constructed using donations from the community of Delta.

"We built this facility," she said. "We built that 10 years ago, and we put $9 million into that of privately-raised money from donations." 

"This didn't come from the taxpayer. This came from private people." 

The Delta Hospice Society wishes to provide patients with a peaceful natural death, not actively end patients' lives, Ireland explained to CNA. 

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"[The hospice] worked really hard to have the people to trust us that when they come to hospice they will not be killed," she said. "We will take care of them, they will take care of their families. And now basically the government has said that any hospice that does not provide euthanasia, it's not allowed to exist."

Ireland called this a "direct attack" on the medical specialty of palliative care. 

Faith-based healthcare organizations, as well as medical professionals opposed to MAiD, are not required to offer medically assisted suicide to patients in Canada. Doctors, however, must refer patients seeking an "assisted death" to a healthcare provider who is willing to euthanize them. 

Assisted dying is readily available at Delta Hospital, which is a one-minute drive from the Irene Thomas Hospice.

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