The Irene Thomas Hospice (known to most as Delta Hospice) is the gold standard for hospices across this country. Delta Hospice has some of the most skilled and compassionate staff that I have ever worked with - from the cleaning staff to the chef, to the nurses and volunteers, there is a level of kindness and professionalism I have rarely seen. Yet, because of the actions of a group of individuals who are opposed to medical assistance in dying (MAID) on ideological (mostly religious) grounds, it is slated to close almost 10 years to the day the first patients were admitted in February, 2010.
I have had the enormous privilege of working at Delta Hospice for the past 10 years, as a palliative care physician of 30 years. The closure of the hospice is an absolute tragedy for our community - for the people who have dedicated years to creating the vision starting in 1991, raising the funds through generous individuals and the Hospice Cottage Thrift Store, designing and building a custom-made 10-suite Hospice and Centre for Supportive Care, and then operating a beautiful, safe and loving place for families to find peace and comfort at the end of life, under the care of the most skilled and dedicated team of caregivers.
How did it come to this?
In June 2016, MAID became legal in Canada. By fall, it was clear that, as a publicly-funded institution not falling within the provincial law’s religious purposes exemption, Delta Hospice would have to allow MAID to be provided within its walls. The board voted to do so, however, following a membership drive intended to bolster the anti-MAID numbers within the organization, that board was voted out, a new board installed, and the policy was changed.
As concluded by the BC Court of Appeal, the new board of directors for the Delta Hospice Society (which operates the Delta Hospice) improperly rejected membership applications based on the applicant’s positive views on MAID. With many new anti-MAID members from across Canada and beyond, they then argued that the Society’s purposes precluded MAID, and that the Society’s constitution and bylaws should be changed to reflect religious principles that would preclude the provision of MAID on the premises. This would allow the hospice to fall within the religious purposes exemption.
The Society has refused to change the policy and permit MAID, and so Fraser Health has withdrawn its 1.5M funding forcing closure of the hospice. The new board and their members were clearly trying to advance a national ideological agenda at the expense of this exceptional local hospice.
I am neither for nor against MAID, but this fact is irrelevant. I have chosen not to provide MAID myself, but I recognize that I have a legal and professional obligation to honour my patients’ requests to be assessed for MAID. The current board released a video on Jan. 8, 2021 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZtm0p2WDyI) which sets the organization up as a victim to Fraser Health and the B.C. government and speaks out against MAID. I was deeply offended, on behalf of our exemplary staff, by the suggestion that our patients have been put under pressure to have MAID. This couldn’t be further from the truth. To suggest this is to unfairly malign the integrity of these dedicated healthcare providers.
In the video, the speakers talk of “disenfranchising” patients if MAID is an option and they speak of “equal choice at the end of life.” What is equal choice if a patient cannot choose to have MAID at the hospice without being forced to transfer elsewhere from the place they consider home, especially if they are too frail to be moved to another facility? The speakers imply that other patients will be harmed by MAID happening within the hospice. Requests for MAID are confidential and are not shared by staff with other patients or families. All rooms are private and all treatments given to patients are confidential. The vast majority of patients will not choose MAID and would be unaware if another patient was receiving it. I cannot see there would be any harm done to other patients.
In reality, few patients have requested MAID at the hospice since it became legal 4½ years ago. In my time at Delta Hospice, I have only been asked by two patients about the possibility of MAID and I believe that there has been only a handful of other requests.
To close this hospice is shocking and disrespectful to the dedicated staff who have given so deeply and compassionately to their patients over all these years and is a great loss to the community of Delta. The hospice has been a sanctuary for end-of-life care for 10 years and could continue to be so with the rare exercise of the right to choose MAID. Sadly, that sanctuary is now closing. Surely we can, and surely we must, do better than this.Daphne Lobb