Religious Hospitals in Canada Must Remain Free to Refuse “Medical Assistance in Dying”

July 28, 2023

In three recent articles, RFI Research Fellow Brian Bird, who is also a lecturer at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia, urges freedom for Catholic and other religious hospitals to refuse physician assisted suicide and euthanasia on their premises.

In one article, Bird points to how a “recent news story of a patient who was denied medically assisted death (MAID) at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, owing to the Catholic belief that intentional termination of human life is killing and not health care, has reignited the debate over whether faith-based hospitals should be allowed to make these refusals.” Bird continues:

British Columbia’s Health Minister has said that the Catholic health organization that runs the hospital, Providence Health Care, should provide assisted death at its facilities. Some observers have suggested that the current approach of transferring patients to other facilities makes a mockery of legal MAID in Canada.

But if governments want to force all hospitals to provide MAID, they might as well outlaw the involvement of faith-based and other conscientiously dissenting organizations in health care and assume direct responsibility for these facilities. This approach would be draconian and constitutionally problematic, but it would be less Orwellian than trying to coerce these organizations into betraying their core convictions on life and death, all while purporting to respect their affiliation to a faith tradition that rejects the termination of human life.

In a second article, which Bird coauthored with Derek Ross (Executive Director and General Counsel of Christian Legal Fellowship), they provide an account of what sets religious hospitals apart from other healthcare facilities and the jurisprudence surrounding medical conscience rights and “MAID” in Canada. Bird and Ross write:

[Faith-based] hospitals—which are best understood not as mere “facilities” but as communities of people advancing a shared mission of healing and care—view the termination of life as contrary to basic principles of medicine. Others, concerned about MAID access, are calling for the government to require these communities to provide MAID on-site (rather than transferring patients to other facilities), or to terminate their service agreements.

[S]ome assert that faith-based hospitals must offer MAID because they are publicly funded and MAID is constitutionally protected. But nothing in Carter (the Supreme Court ruling that sparked the decriminalization of MAID) suggested that every health-care facility must provide it. While the trial judge was satisfied that some physicians, in some circumstances, “would find it consistent with their ethical principles to assist patients with hastening death if it were legal to do so”, the judge also recognized that, for others, intentionally ending the life of a patient is “ethically inconceivable”. The question of forcing physicians, or the communities in which they care for patients, to participate in MAID was never at issue. 

In a third article addressing these issues, Bird observes, “Pressure is mounting for Catholic health-care facilities in B.C. to provide assisted death.” He concludes, “In my view, the demise of spaces that offer excellent health care and a refuge from euthanasia would be a major loss for a diverse society and mature liberal democracy. It would write a new chapter in the tragedy that I consider euthanasia to be.”

Read the full articles: