B.C. doctor resigns from Catholic hospital board after it refuses to offer medically-assisted death

Dr. Jonathan Reggler says he wants the province to enact legislation to make services mandatory at all B.C. hospitals.

Dr. Jonathan Reggler wants legislation to make services mandatory at all B.C. hospitals

People with grievous and irremediable medical conditions should have the right to ask a doctor to help them die, Canada's highest court ruled in 2015. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

A doctor in the Comox Valley is stepping up his opposition against a Catholic hospital's refusal to offer medically assisted deaths on site.

Earlier this year, Dr. Jonathan Reggler spoke out against St. Joseph's General Hospital where he works. On Tuesday, he resigned from the hospital's ethics committee.

"The motto of St Joseph's Hospital is care with compassion, this is the single most uncompassionate ... hospital policy I've come across," he said.

As the hospital's representative on the committee, Reggler says he could not sit by and watch as critically ill patients with a desire for medically-assisted deaths were transferred to other institutions.

"I believe that the policy is disgraceful and I cannot represent a board that is willing to subject patients to the sort of unnecessary pain and suffering that comes about with being transferred."

Dr. Jonathan Reggler says he and several of his colleagues would like to be able to provide medically-assisted deaths at St. Joseph's Hospital in Comox, B.C. (Dr, Jonathan Reggler/Facebook)

The president and CEO of the hospital, Jane Murphy, confirmed its policy is to send patients to nearby locations if they seek any such services which is in line with other B.C. faith-based medical facilities.

In a statement, she says the hospital is within its rights to "conscientiously object" to the practice.

Federal legislation states that no doctor or nurse can be forced to provide the service. It also recognizes freedom of conscience and religion as per the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Reggler takes issue with the hospital's reliance on this caveat — he says that policy is meant to honor the wishes of individuals and "not something made of bricks and mortar" like a hospital.

"A hospital doesn't have feelings, the people who work within the hospital and the patients of the hospital have feelings and have consciences," he said.

He added one of the key issues in the area is that St. Joseph's is the only hospital serving the Comox Valley.

Sending patients away who are near death can cause undue stress, he says.

Publicly funded organizations

Shanaaz Gokool, president of Dying with Dignity, addresses supporters in Toronto. She hopes faith-based organizations will change their stance to allow individual doctors to decide whether they want to offer medically-assisted deaths. (dyingwithdignity.ca)

Dying with Dignity's CEO, Shanaaz Gokool is applauding Reggler's "courageous" actions.

She says health care providers receive public funding and therefore should not limit access to medical services that are legal and can be readily administered.

"If people start opting out as providers of health care, we've got a real problem because people won't be able to access it across many places across the country," she said.

Gokool hopes faith-based hospitals will take it upon themselves to shift their approach.

Rather than an outright ban, she says there can be incremental changes such as allowing external practitioners to visit and provide information on site rather than sending patients out.

She says provincial governments should clarify their position so faith-based institutions don't have to rely on what she also sees as an interpretation of current legislation.

Reggler wants to see B.C.'s government make services for medically-assisted deaths mandatory at all hospitals.

Health Minister Terry Lake was unavailable for an interview but said in a statement, his ministry is continuing to monitor the situation.

Previously, he said that in cases where a patient's wishes are in conflict with a provider's religious code, the care of that patient should be transferred in order to honour different belief systems.