Edmonton

CBC Edmonton investigation on assisted dying wins Edward R. Murrow Award

CBC Edmonton investigative reporter Jennie Russell has won a prestigious Edward R. Murrow award for her series of stories about Covenant Health's assisted-dying policy.

'Unassisted Death' exposed how Covenant Health policy caused patient suffering

In 2018, CBC Edmonton investigative reporter Jennie Russell revealed how terminally ill patients and their families had suffered under Covenant Health's policy on medical assistance in dying. (CBC)

CBC Edmonton investigative reporter Jennie Russell has won a prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation that revealed the troubling human cost of Covenant Health's medical-assistance-in-dying policy.

The series of stories detailed how the policy, by default, prohibited patients from even signing their medical-assistance-in-dying (MAID) request forms, or undergoing eligibility assessments by provincial medical staff, on Covenant's publicly funded properties. The Catholic health provider also expressly prohibits assisted deaths from taking place in its facilities.

The stories detailed how Covenant's policy had a traumatic effect on some terminally ill patients and their families, including ALS patient Doreen Nowicki. The 66-year-old woman, who could no longer walk or speak, was forced to have her assisted-dying assessment on the sidewalk near a busy street.

Ethics and legal experts said the policy, which the provincial government allowed, was not only cruel and inhumane but infringed on patients' rights.

The stories drew outrage nationwide and sparked a discussion about the rights of publicly funded religious health providers. Under public and political pressure, Covenant Health revised its policy and now unconditionally allows patients to sign their MAID forms and undergo their assessments in its facilities.

And in late December, Alberta's health minister, Sarah Hoffman, told CBC News that after receiving public feedback from across the country, her ministry was reviewing options that would allow assisted deaths to take place in Covenant Health facilities while still respecting the health provider's objections.

A recent poll of Albertans, commissioned by the advocacy group Dying with Dignity Canada, revealed 80 per cent supported the idea that the province's publicly funded hospitals should be required to allow assisted deaths on their premises if the hospital is physically capable of doing so.

Of those surveyed, 77 per cent disagreed with the province's current practice of allowing hospitals to refuse to allow the service because of their beliefs or religious affiliations.

Russell, a Carleton University graduate, began her career at CBC Edmonton in 2012. This is the fifth Murrow Award she has won as part of CBC Investigates, the investigative unit of CBC Edmonton.

"I am so pleased for Jennie's work to be recognized," said Stephanie Coombs, CBC Edmonton's director of journalism and programming. "Jennie's tenacity with this story brought much-needed attention to the very real effects that public policies can have on everyday people."

The Edward R. Murrow Awards, named for a prominent American journalist, are administered by the Radio Television Digital News Association in the United States. They recognize journalism that demonstrates the spirit of excellence set by Murrow.