Faith-based health care should end with Sask.'s health region amalgamation

Why are we still allowing publicly funded, faith-based organizations to run health-care facilities when they unabashedly discriminate in the health care they provide?

Some Catholic-run hospitals in Sask. refuse to provide certain services

St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon does not permit abortions to be performed in the facility. (Peter Mills/CBC)

In 2006, the St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Humboldt, Sask., transferred a woman, who had just given birth, to a Saskatoon Hospital to have a tubal ligation. At the time, the hospital in Humboldt was Catholic-run and it refused to perform tubal ligations.

The woman filed a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, which found that she had been discriminated against in the provision of health care on the basis of her sex and religion.

Eventually, the hospital board ended its Catholic affiliation and the hospital is now run as a public hospital within the Saskatoon Health Region.

Some Catholic hospitals are refusing to offer physician-assisted death and it's unclear whether the provinces will force them to provide the service. (Getty Images/Blend Images)

Still today, though, there are at least five Catholic-run hospitals in Saskatchewan. They all receive public funding to provide a public service, yet are permitted to deny citizens their right to reproductive health care. Now, they are refusing to provide medically assistance dying, too. Some publicly funded faith-based care homes are also refusing to assist with medically assisted dying.

This begs the question: Why are we still allowing publicly funded, faith-based organizations to run health-care facilities when they unabashedly discriminate in the health care they provide?

The health care being denied to citizens at Catholic-run hospitals are rights that have been fought for and won through the courts on the basis that such health care is to be provided to all citizens, free of discrimination.

In the cases of reproductive health and medically assistance dying, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that access to these health services are fundamental to a person's security and liberty — and, further, that these rights cannot be denied on the basis of sex or disability. Despite this, faith-based institutions in Saskatchewan remain unabated and publicly funded.

In Saskatoon, we have accommodated St. Paul's Hospital's discriminatory restrictions on health services by adjusting the types of health services offered in specific hospitals. For example, St. Paul's does not permit abortions to be performed in its facility, nor does it provide medically assistance dying.

The only institutional palliative care unit available within the current Saskatoon Health Region is located in St. Paul's Hospital.  

Patients in St. Paul's seeking medically assistance dying are transferred to other local hospitals by ambulance.

We know of at least two deaths, in other jurisdictions, occurring in the ambulance en route to a hospital that provides MAID.

The daughter of one of the patients who died while being transferred described his journey as painful. This is cruel, often painful and always despairing for the patient and family.

Currently, Saskatchewan is undergoing a massive shift in the administration of health care as we amalgamate into one provincial health region. This is the perfect time to move all publicly funded faith-based health-care institutions into one public health-care system.  

This is not an argument about the overall quality of health care provided by faith-based institutions but rather the recognition that health care is a right to be provided without discrimination and free from the restrictive doctrines of one's faith.

About the Author

Ailsa M. Watkinson is a professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Regina, Saskatoon Campus.


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