HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (ChurchMilitant.com) - Nova Scotia is quietly forcing a Catholic hospital in the province to help patients kill themselves.
Formerly run by the Sisters of St. Martha, St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, is being told by the province that it must now offer patients access to physician-assisted suicide (PAS). The Catholic hospital was formerly exempt from Canada's pro-death legislation as per a 1996 agreement when it signed over control of its hospital to the province.
The agreement ensuring the hospital's Catholic identity and values would be honored was negated last month by a single email from Tim Guest, the Health Authority's vice-president of health services.
"Assessments and the provision of (medical assistance in dying) will be available in a section of the St. Martha's Regional Hospital complex, at the Antigonish Health and Wellness Centre," wrote Guest.
The sisters' community has yet to respond to the government's imposition of PAS. Guest's email inexplicably adds that the new guidelines uphold the original agreement in 1996 that promises to respect the sisters' moral nature of its mission.
"This approach respects the 1996 Mission Assurance Agreement with the Sisters of St. Martha that lays out the philosophy, mission and values of St. Martha's in accordance with its faith-based identity," wrote Guest, "while also meeting the legislated obligation to ensure that (medical assistance in dying) is available in the Antigonish area for those who request and meet the criteria to access that service."
Advocates of PAS are enthused by Nova Scotia's quiet circumvention of possible legal challenges brought by the sisters who object to helping patients kill themselves. Jocelyn Downie, professor of health law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, sees this move by the province as setting a national trend across Canada.
"What has been recognized here in Nova Scotia is that publicly funded institutions — here publicly owned and operated institutions — cannot favor one particular religious view over another in the context of (medical assistance in dying)," commented Downie.
Legal objections by faith-based organizations to government-mandated changes in core moral values at previously exempt hospitals probably wouldn't stand up in court, said Downie. Advocates for assisted suicide, she said, would probably win such legal battles.
The pro-death organization Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) is overjoyed by Nova Scotia's imposition of PAS on the sisters' hospital. Jim Cowan, the group's board chairman, says it was "the right thing to do." He takes note of similar legal changes in Newfoundland, Labrador and Quebec.
Speaking of Canada's PAS laws, Cowan said these provinces "come closest to what we have now."
He added, "I hope that other provinces will follow Nova Scotia's lead."
There are dozens of hospitals currently exempt from offering PAS, according to DWDC. These faith-based hospitals are still allowed to ban PAS from being offered on their premises. A spokesman for the group, Cory Ruf, noted the provinces of Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia are still holdouts for resisting Canada's pro-death legislation.
"It's unconscionable to require desperately suffering people to transfer out of a facility at such a difficult moment in their lives," Ruf said. "The scale of the problem is countrywide."
Church Militant reached out to the archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth but has yet to receive a response.