British Columbia

Delta Hospice Society facing new criticism as it moves to become a Christian organization

A Delta resident believes her application to join the society was turned down because she believes the hospice should provide medical assistance in dying.

The society is set to lose $1.5 million in annual funding after it voted to stop providing assisted dying

The Irene Thomas Hospice in Delta, British Columbia on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Delta Hospice Society is facing new criticism, this time over refusing memberships and possible violations of the B.C. Societies Act.

Former Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington and Delta resident Patricia Sibley are two of a number of people who say their membership applications were denied without explanation.

"I applied to be a member and paid my $10 in the beginning of December and I got my cheque in the mail [Wednesday] saying here's your money back, we don't want it," said Sibley.

Earlier this year, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the province was pulling $1.5 million in annual funding — equal to 94 per cent of of the society's budget —  in response to the DHS decision to stop providing medical assistance in dying (MAiD) late last year.

MAiD was passed into federal law in 2016.

Sibley believes her application was turned down because of public comments she made on the Delta Hospice discussion page on Facebook.

"I believe in dignity in dying and I believe that people should have an option," she said.

"We have this beautiful hospice ... that would be a great place to end your life whether you decide to wait for God to come get you or whether you decide to not suffer and move on."

Former Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington and Delta resident Patricia Sibley are two of a number of people who say their membership applications were denied without explanation. But the hospice society says it recently decided to cap memberships at 1,500 and members are chosen randomly. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

DHS chairwoman Angelina Ireland told CBC society membership decisions are confidential. She denied potential members were being screened for religious beliefs or for their position on MAiD.

"We would never push anyone out," she said. 

'Accepted as many as we can'

Ireland said the reason some applications have been turned down is because the society "recently" decided to cap membership at 1,500. She said those who were accepted were selected randomly.

"We are a very small society and we have accepted as many as we can," she said.

On June 15, DHS is holding an extraordinary general meeting to vote on a new constitution which describes the society's function as "a Christian community that furthers biblical principles governed by the Triune God."

"We value the dignity and sanctity of all human life in all its stages until its natural end. We follow Jesus Christ in our inspiration in healing and compassionate treatment toward others," reads part of the mission statement.

Delta Mayor George Harvie and Delta South MLA Ian Paton have both expressed concern over the direction taken by the Delta Hospice Society. 

Paton says his constituency "lit up" when the June 15 vote was announced. 

"If you look at the revised constitution, the first three pages are basically — wow — quotes from verses in the bible, you must be a Christian to be involved."

"People of all faiths continue to work there, volunteer there, to donate money," he said. "What I'm saying is there's no place for people to be left out of the hospice society because they don't belong to the Christian faith." 

Paton has sent letters to Dix and Minister of Citizens' Services Anne Kang asking if DHS is violating the B.C. Societies Act.

He also wonders why the DHS is trying to change its constitution, with the province and Fraser Health poised to take over operations eight months from now.

Dix released a statement on Friday afternoon saying the hospice is regulated under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act, and anyone who believes the hospice is not acting according to the guidelines set out by the act may make a complaint to the medical health officer in their region, who is required to investigate the allegations.

"This is a time when our communities have come together in remarkable ways to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to hospice services are fundamental to people," his statement read.

But Ireland says the DHS will fight any attempt to expropriate society assets.

"As far as I'm concerned, that only happens in a communist country," she said. "This is a private society."

Ireland says the DHS is seeking to become a faith-based organization just like St. Paul's Hospital and other health providers.

She says the the society is promoting a "philosophy that tries to affirm our heritage and our identity for palliative care."

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