Bruyère, a publicly funded Catholic health-care provider in Ottawa that offers palliative care, will not provide physician-assisted death or refer patients to the service despite a Supreme Court ruling striking down the ban, its head says in a memo obtained by CBC News.

Bruyère president and CEO Daniel Levac says in a Jan. 20 memo the organization is "obligated" to stand behind its sponsor, the Catholic Health Sponsors of Ontario, as the federal government's deadline to pass assisted-dying legislation looms.

The memo points to a December 2015 document issued by the Catholic Health Sponsors of Ontario, which states that it would not provide physician-assisted death in its institutions and would not "directly or explicitly" refer a patient to get the medical procedure elsewhere. 

If patients under the care of CHSO organizations make a request for physician-assisted death, it "will assist them to question their request for assisted death and to explore other alternative forms of medical care. This is completely consistent with our moral and ethical tradition," the document says.

'We don't believe that institutions have a conscience. They are bricks and mortar and concrete.' - Shanaaz Gokool, Dying with Dignity Canada

A Catholic-based health provider in Vancouver has also detailed in a memo that physician-assisted death is "not permitted" at its institutions, which should have Canadians "very concerned," said Shanaaz Gokool, the CEO of Dying With Dignity Canada.

Gokool said she respects the right of individual doctors to "conscientiously object" to assist in the death of a patient as long as they provide a referral, adding that health-care providers should not outright ban the service on principle.

"We don't believe that institutions have a conscience. They are bricks and mortar and concrete," she said. "This is probably going to be the most critical issue moving forward as it relates to access across the country."

Bruyère to 'monitor the situation'

Bruyère runs Élisabeth Bruyère Hospital in the ByWard Market and Saint-Vincent Hospital in Centretown, as well as long-term care, palliative care and family medicine centres in Ottawa. The health-care organization confirmed it sent out the January memo but has refused to comment further.


The Supreme Court of Canada gave the former Conservative government a year to draft new legislation after striking down the ban on doctor-assisted dying in February 2015. (CBC)

The memo states that, "senior management will monitor the situation and will communicate with staff and adjust operations as necessary as legislative requirements around physician-assisted death become clearer."

The Supreme Court of Canada gave the former Conservative government a year to draft new legislation after striking down the ban on doctor-assisted dying in February 2015. After a request from the new Liberal government, the court extended the date to pass the law to June 6.

On Thursday, a special parliamentary committee of MPs and senators tabled a 70-page report called "Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centred Approach," with 21 recommendations on how to draft that legislation.

One of those recommendations was that an individual health practitioner's freedom of conscience should be balanced with the needs of a patient, and that "at minimum, the objecting practitioner must provide an effective referral for the patient."

The head of the CHSO, John Ruetz, told CBC News in an email that time is needed to "carefully consider the parliamentary report." Still, he said he believes Ontario's Local Health System Integration Act does allow health organizations to exercise conscience rights.

"This legislation makes it clear that no health-care organization will be obligated to provide a health service that is contrary to its religious beliefs," he wrote.

He added that the Ontario organization takes its lead from the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada, which oversees about 120 hospitals, community health centres, nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the country.

Read the full CHSO response to physician-assisted death here.