Faith-based hospitals in Winnipeg ban medically assisted deaths

Concordia Hospital and St. Boniface Hospital say they will not offer medically assisted deaths to patients in their care.

St. Boniface General Hospital and Concordia Hospital conscientiously object to legal practice

Two hospitals in Winnipeg have forbidden medically assisted deaths due to their religious affiliations. (Getty Images/Blend Images)

Two faith-based hospitals in Winnipeg say they will not be providing doctor-assisted deaths to their patients.

Both Concordia Hospital (Anabaptist-Mennonite) and St. Boniface Hospital (Catholic) say they will not offer the legal service to patients.

In June, the federal government amended the criminal code with Bill C-14 to allow doctors and nurse practitioners to help patients with "grievous and irremediable" illnesses to die. Manitoba introduced its own policy to implement medical assistance in dying, commonly called MAID, that same month. 

In an advertisement published in The Herald, a community paper in Winnipeg, Concordia Hospital's board of directors said it had created a policy to ban medical assistance in dying after receiving input from the professional bodies and consulting with Concordia doctors and staff. The ad also includes a form to make financial donations to the hospital.

The ad which appeared in Wednesday edition of The Herald. (Canstar Community News/Winnipeg Free Press)

The advertisement states hospital board members and Concordia's spiritual care manager attended Mennonite and other faith-based sessions on assisted dying.

"Concordia believes that providing health care is a ministry assigned to us by Christ and is expressive of our Anabaptist faith, values and ethics," the advertisement reads.

"As such, our opposition to the practice of MAID based on our ethical and moral beliefs needs have been recognized and honoured by the WRHA, and Concordia Hospital and Concordia Place will not offer the service of MAID."

Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, said it is "disturbing" that a publicly funded hospital wouldn't offer the full range of health services to patients who want and need them.

"The idea that patients who live in Concordia Place for example — that's their home — and if they wish to die at home, the fact that the church with whom the hospital is affiliated doesn't approve of that, shouldn't limit [the patient's] fundamental right."

"No patient should be denied their wish to die at home, to die where they're living."

Hospitals don't have the right: Schafer 

Schafer said while doctors and nurses are entitled to conscientiously object from administering a medically assisted death, a hospital or institution does not have the same right. The federal legislation acknowledges personal beliefs and does not force any person or health care worker to provide medical assistance in dying.

University of Manitoba ethics professor Arthur Schafer argues hospitals do not have a right to impose their beliefs about assisted deaths on health care workers, patients or the general public. (CBC)

"The people who work within those institutions have a conscience, the institution doesn't," he said. "Their belief, which is a legitimate religious conviction they have, shouldn't be imposed on patients, doctors, nurses or the general public."

A spokesperson for St. Boniface Hospital said while the institution is not participating in MAID, it will work with patients to facilitate a transfer.

Concordia Hospital said it will treat patients requesting MAID with "compassion" and connect them with the provincial medical assistance in dying clinical team.

The WRHA told CBC it has accommodations for patients who live at or are being treated in a faith-based facility to receive MAID at another facility.

Assessments by the MAID clinical team can be done either at the faith-based institution or outside, depending on the preference of the hospital. The clinical team would then help facilitate the death outside the faith-based institution.

"This ensures people from across the province can access the service, while respecting our commitment to the faith-based facilities," said a WHRA spokesperson.

In Canada there are two legal forms of medically assisted death: the first involves a health practitioner injecting a drug, called voluntary euthanasia. In the second, a health practitioner provides or prescribes a drug that is self-administered to cause death, known as medically assisted suicide.

with files from Meagan Fiddler