In Canada, medically assisted suicide is permitted by law. Yet some Catholic hospitals still refuse to take part in the reduction of suffering for patients who choose to end life on their own terms. This isn’t just theoretical, and a recent case shows us the lengths some people have to go to just to ease their suffering.
Last year, Doreen Nowicki was suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease and met all the requirements for being able to legally end her own life. The problem is that she was in the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre — a Catholic hospital. (While Nowicki wasn’t Catholic, she felt comfortable in that building and had developed a bond with the hospital staff.)
You know how some pharmacists don’t want to dispense birth control or drugs to induce an abortion even in the case of miscarriage, and how many U.S. states require those pharmacists to at least transfer the prescription to someone else nearby who is actually willing to do his or her job? It works that way in Canada, too, where if a Catholic hospital doesn’t want to participate in an assisted death, they are required to transfer patients to a nearby facility that will help.
In Nowicki’s case, because of her immobility, she fell under an exemption in the law that allowed her to remain in the Catholic hospital while a government doctor — in this case, someone from Alberta Health Services — came to her to provide assistance and advice. The plan was just to talk about her options.
But then, in May, an hour before someone from AHS arrived, the hospital refused to abide by the exemption. That led to this incredible, insane spectacle:
[Husband Terry] Nowicki says a mechanical lift was used to get his wife out of bed and into a wheelchair. Unable to arrange a meeting space at a nearby care centre, the couple’s three daughters wheeled the woman outside and across the street to a sidewalk to have the meeting.
Instead of speaking with the doctor from the comfort of her hospital bed, her family was forced to take her outside to the sidewalk so she could speak with a professional about a perfectly legal medical procedure. No one should have to discuss the most private and difficult decision she’ll ever make in the full view of strangers.
She eventually moved to a different facility and died the following month.
But now that the story has been made public, there’s justified outrage against the Catholic hospital’s irresponsible actions and heartless last-minute decision. The hospital is publicly apologizing, too, saying they are taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Covenant Health, which runs Edmonton General and several other hospitals in Alberta, apologized to Nowicki’s family in a news release Tuesday. It said it had done a review and taken steps to clarify procedures.
“We are focused on ensuring our response to all patients requesting access to medical assistance in dying … is timely, compassionate and appropriate.”
Alberta’s health minister called the sidewalk assessment “completely unacceptable.”
“Every patient in Alberta deserves the same level of dignified and compassionate care, no matter what kind of health-care facility they visit,” Sarah Hoffman said in a statement.
It’s unclear what steps Covenant Health is taking, but this whole incident underscores the problem with Catholic hospitals that care more about following the irrational whims of Catholic bishops instead of doing what’s best for patients. They are forcing people to prolong their suffering in the name of God. The only acceptable solution is for the hospital to say it will never get in the way of patients who seek legal and medically appropriate procedures if the only opposition is theological.
(Thanks to Lorne and Brian for the link)