British Columbia

Doctor-assisted death and religious beliefs can coexist, minister says

Both the rights of patients and the belief system of health providers can be accommodated in B.C., once physician-assisted death legislation passes in Canada, the health minister says.

Terry Lake says B.C. can accommodate both patients and Catholic healthcare providers

A Catholic healthcare provider in Vancouver says they are not willing to help patients with assisted suicide at their facilities. (Chris Kreussling)

Both the rights of patients and the belief system of health providers can be accommodated in B.C. once physician-assisted death legislation passes in Canada, the province's health minister told CBC News Thursday.

In an interview with CBC's Andrew Chang, Minister Terry Lake said that while he believed that patient rights should be universal, he also thought room should be made for healthcare providers who object to treatment based on their faith.

"Would you want a healthcare provider who had deeply held religious, ethical dilemmas [around] offering the service that you want them to provide?" Lake said.

His comments followed CBC's publication of a leaked  internal memo circulated among staff at Vancouver's Catholic-based Providence Health Care.

The memo, sent on Feb. 16, said that physician-assisted death is "not permitted' across the organizations health services including downtown Vancouver hospital, St. Paul's.

Transfer patients where conflict arises

Lake said that in cases where the patient's wishes were in conflict with the provider's religious code, the care of that patient should be transferred.

"Because Providence is in Vancouver Coastal, I think we have the ability within our system to accommodate the patient — and of course we always need to put the patient first — but also the belief system of the provider," he said.

He said that because the legislation would include contemplation time as part of the physician-assisted death process, there would be "ample time to accommodate the safe and responsible transfer of care" where necessary.

"This is a very personal and emotional decision that goes to the basis of people's belief systems," he said.

"And we all have our own belief systems."


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