Saskatoon's St. Paul's Hospital defends faith-based health care

The CEO and president of St. Paul's Hospital is defending Catholic-run hospitals after a call for the end of faith-based health care in the province.

Comments come after opinion column called Catholic hospitals discriminatory

Saskatoon's St. Paul's Hospital does not perform abortions or medically-assisted dying. (Peter Mills/CBC)

The CEO and president of Saskatoon's St. Paul's Hospital is defending Catholic-run hospitals after a call for the end of faith-based health care in the province.

On Tuesday, University of Regina professor Ailsa Watkinson wrote an opinion piece for CBC calling for faith-based health care in Saskatchewan to stop after the province's health regions are amalgamated in December.

Watkinson argued it was discriminatory that Catholic hospitals refuse to perform procedures like medically-assisted dying and abortions.

However, CEO Jean Morrison told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning it's practically unheard of for one hospital to offer every medical procedure available to the public. She said people are routinely transferred to other hospitals for specialty care.

"What's on the table is that people get the service they need and want, and as compassionately as possible," said Morrison.

While there is no maternal care offered at St. Paul's Hospital, the issue of medically-assisted dying becomes more complicated. St. Paul's is the only hospital with a palliative care unit in the Saskatoon Health Region.

Ultimately, anyone in the palliative unit who requests a medically-assisted death would be transferred to another hospital via ambulance. However, critics argue transferring fragile patients can be difficult and painful for the patients. 

"Medically, we transfer patients between hospitals every day," Morrison said.

"We try to transfer them as compassionately and with the greatest comfort possible, and we have much experience in doing that, and will continue to do that in this situation."

Watkinson's column also argued that faith-based health care providers ultimately discriminate against patients on the basis of sex or disability by refusing to perform health care procedures for all citizens.

"All providers are grappling with this," said Morrison.

"It's not just a Catholic issue. Not every service is available at every public facility."

Morrison said Catholic-run health care facilities have a long history of being accommodated by the health care system, and she doesn't see that changing any time soon.

"In all jurisdictions across Canada, Catholic health providers operate under local agreements that assert our ability to abide by our faith, while providing the services that we're capable of providing that are in alignment with our Catholic tradition," she said.

"There's precedent within the public health system."

In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Health said funding for faith-based facilities "will not cease with the transition to a single health authority."

Even though St. Paul's is more than 100 years old, Morrison said Catholic-run health care still fulfils an important role in the system. 

"Catholic health care is grounded in meeting unmet needs and providing holistic, compassionate care to all people, no matter who they are," she said.

"And no matter what happens, we go back to that grounding."