Is a showdown brewing between the Delta Hospice Society and Fraser Health over medically assisted deaths?
The society has been at odds with the health region over its policy to provide Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD), which is now legal in Canada, in hospices.
Delta Hospice does not want the service offered at its Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner, and although the health region hasn’t gone so far as to threaten it, at least publicly, the society could be stripped of its operating funding if MAiD isn’t provided.
The society recently put an ad in the Optimist stating its board of directors completed an engagement with Delta residents, hospice staff and volunteers, and its membership. It also conducted a professional telephone survey across the community.
“We found that opinions on MAiD varied widely across the spectrum of all groups engaged. This was also reflected in the discussion at the hospice boardroom table, and no clear consensus was reached,” the society stated.
The society has decided not to recommend changing its bylaws and will continue to provide “compassionate and skilled” transfers from the local hospice facility for patients requiring any medical procedure, including MAiD.
Saying they haven’t heard from the health region on the issue in a number of months, board president Jim Levin told the Optimist it means the society will be staying the course. He also said it hasn’t received an ultimatum.
“Until we hear something that makes us look into it, the issue has been resolved from our point of view,” Levin said.
It was reported last year that the Fraser Health board of directors agreed to phase in implementation of MAiD in hospice settings throughout the health region, however, Delta Hospice Society executive director Nancy Macey at the time said it’s a procedure philosophically at odds with what’s provided in hospice care. It’s something, she said, that could also discourage people from seeking palliative care from hospices.
The local society made a presentation the the health region and discussed options, such as an exemption from providing MAiD at the Irene Thomas Hospice, but were told that’s not an option.
“It is important for the community to know that all people have the legal option to choose MAiD to die. In Fraser Health, the procedures can be implemented in hospitals, homes and other places a person may wish. A dedicated site for patients and families for the MAiD procedure has been set up in New Westminster. Therefore, there are not barriers to access,” Macey explained in an interview last December.
Fraser Health spokesperson Jacqueline Blackwell said the health region believes hospice is a critical part of the continuum of care and values those who provide the service.
“We understand there are controversies surrounding this legal obligation and where and how to implement this. There is no hard and fast date for hospice care. We continue to work with Delta Hospice on their concerns,” she explained.
“We need to consider how to offer it in the most patient-centered way we can as we strongly support the patient's right to choose to access these services. We understand this is a very difficult and emotional issue for people, but we need to remember that at the core of all this is the patient, and we need to work together to find the best solution and path forward.”
Delta Hospice has a partnership with Fraser Health for funding of operations of the Irene Thomas Hospice. Delta Hospice also contributes significant funding to enhance the operations annually.
The society raised all of the $8.5 million to build the hospice and the adjacent centre for supportive care.