MUHC rethinking palliative care unit's exemption from providing assisted death

The McGill University Health Centre is reconsidering a policy that requires patients seeking a doctor-assisted death to transfer out of its palliative care unit.

Patients seeking medical assistance to die must transfer out of MUHC palliative care unit

The MUHC's head of professional services, Dr. Ewa Sidorowicz, said MUHC may 'adjust' its policy which requires a palliative-care patient who requests an assisted death to transfer out of the unit. (CBC)

The McGill University Health Centre is reconsidering a policy that requires patients seeking a doctor-assisted death to transfer out of its palliative care unit.

Dr. Ewa Sidorowicz, the director of professional services at the MUHC, said the policy was put in place to alleviate concerns among the palliative care unit's staff. 

"There was concern about how this would be presented, how it would be potentially confused with other palliative treatments," she said. 

She said that the MUHC was complying with assisted-death law because the service is offered elsewhere in the hospital.

So far 1 transfer 

The MUHC has had five applications for doctor-assisted death since the law came into effect, only one of which involved a patient who was in the palliative care unit and had to transfer out.

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette said doctors putting their personal views ahead of a patient's best interests was "deplorable, but it's their choice." 

Parti Québécois MNA Véronique Hivon says the hospital should respect the law. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)
"What's not acceptable, is that a patient who wants to go in that direction runs into such pitfalls," he said.

Parti Québécois MNA Véronique Hivon, who introduced Quebec's original assisted-dying bill when her party was in power, said that the MUHC is a public institution and must respect the law.

Hivon said if doctors object to performing the service, it's incumbent on them to step aside rather than asking that patients be moved.

"It's absurd and unacceptable that a place that's there to accompany patients, to give them the best care and the best comfort both physically and psychologically, is stopping short of accompanying them to the end of their lives," she said.

'It's unacceptable'

Patients' rights lawyer Jean-Pierre Ménard says the policy infringes on the spirit of Quebec's assisted-death law.

"It's unacceptable that in a specific unit in a public hospital, patients are denied some of their rights," said Ménard. 

"Normally what the hospital should do is try to adapt the services to the patients' needs and rights, and here McGill is doing the opposite," he said.

Sidorowicz said reactions like this one have led the MUHC to look more closely at its policy.

"Our policy will be adjusted. I think that's what's going to happen," she said.