Ottawa

Former head of Bruyère defends lack of physician-assisted death

The former head of Bruyère, a publicly funded Catholic health-care provider that is biggest source of palliative care in Ottawa, is defending the organization's decision not provide physician-assisted death.

'It's a big concern to think that they will completely shut down a legally offered service'

The former head of Bruyère says the government's role is to ensure physician-assisted death is available to patients, but not that it is available everywhere. (AFP/Getty Images)

The former head of Bruyère, a publicly funded Catholic health-care provider that is biggest source of palliative care in Ottawa, is defending the organization's decision not provide physician-assisted death.

The Liberal government's often criticized assisted-dying bill became law in June but Catholic hospitals, including Bruyère, have refused to help patients end their lives.

"Not every institution offers every service," Michel Bilodeau, who was the head of Bruyère for more than 14 years, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. "Bruyère does not provide emergency room, surgery, does not provide obstetrics and abortion — other hospitals do."

University of Ottawa professor Daphne Gilbert previously told Ottawa Morning that because "Bruyère is the biggest source of palliative care" in Ottawa, it should offer physician-assisted death.

"It's a big concern to think that they will completely shut down a legally offered service," she said.

But Bilodeau said choosing Bruyère for palliative care is a choice — and a choice that is often made when a person is close to death already.

"People are transferred to palliative care, on average, 20 days before they die, which means that their situation had started to deteriorize [sic] way longer before they are transferred to palliative care at Bruyère that has only 31 beds, out of thousands of hospital beds in our region," he said.

"Obviously, if I were a terminally ill patient treated at The Ottawa Hospital, for example, and I intended to request medically assisted death, obviously I would not ask to be transferred to Bruyère."

Bruyère has said it will transfer patients who want physician-assisted death to another institution that offers it.

Listen to a clip of Michel Bilodeau here.

Government buy out would be 'very expensive'

Bilodeau said the government's role is to ensure physician-assisted death is available — not that it is available everywhere. Even though the government pays for up to 80 per cent of the operation of the hospital, Bilodeau emphasized that Bruyère is owned by a religious order.

"The sisters who are the owners of the buildings and of the hospital and have the licence to operate a hospital have the right to say, 'That's not going to happen in our buildings,'" he said. 

"And the government has totally the right to say, 'OK, in that case, we're not going to renew your licence to operate a hospital. But then, the sisters own the buildings and so the government would have to purchase them, which would be very expensive."

He said he doesn't know if Bruyère would shut down rather than provide physician-assisted death, but said when he was head of the hospital "the message to government would have been, buy us out."

Still, he said that would be "spending hundreds of millions of dollars for nothing at all. For no improvement in services — just for bricks and mortar. I think it would be a very bad policy decision."

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