Shouts of protest turned to cheers this past weekend as activists on a collision course with the Delta Hospice Society (DHS) learned of the British Columbia Supreme Court’s decision to halt the June 15 vote that would have transformed the society into a faith-based organization.
The proposed vote, to be conducted by phone and mail-in ballot, would have amended the DHS constitution, describing the organization as “a Christian community that furthers biblical principles governed by the Triune God” and pledging “to follow Christ’s teachings and example in all we do.”
At stake? Terminally ill patients’ right to decide to die on their own terms via medical assistance in dying (MAiD).
The site at the heart of the controversy is the Irene Thomas Hospice, which operates under the auspices of DHS. In 2019, the presiding DHS board of directors voted in favor of providing MAiD to residents who request it. (MAiD has been permissible under Canadian law since 2016.)
Opponents of the decision campaigned to flood the society with like-minded new members, who ousted the pro-MAiD directors and took the organization in a new, hyper-Christian direction, beginning with the prompt reversal of the previous vote.
As it stands, patients seeking MAiD must be transferred to other facilities to access the process. But local health authority Fraser Health says that approach is too burdensome to patients and their families. They’ve ruled that all non-religious palliative care providers must comply with the law and offer MAiD to those who want it.
But faith-based organizations are not legally required to provide the service on-site — a fact that could be behind the board of directors’ fervent efforts to make DHS an officially Christian organization.
Current president Angelina Ireland told CTV News that those who want MAiD available as an option can build their own hospice, but the practice is incompatible with this one’s Christian ethics:
What we have is a government that wants to destroy palliative care for their own ideological reasons or economic reasons… The history of palliative care is rooted in Christian moral teaching. It is rooted in [the idea] that we take care of each other, that we care for the dying, that we don’t kill them, that we make their lives comfortable and peaceful.
Ireland seems to believe that MAiD and palliative care can’t coexist, that if MAiD is available to those who choose it, the hospice will have to stop giving care and comfort to people who don’t, or that access to MAiD will do away with natural death, leaving patients without the option to let nature take its course.
Technically, the membership of the Delta Hospice Society agrees with all that… but it’s by design. The current board of directors has been blocking MAiD supporters’ attempts to make their voices heard, rejecting no less than 160 recent applications for membership in the society without explanation.
Clearly, the current board of directors remembers how they got where they are, and they’re not about to let their opponents try the same trick.
Ireland insists it’s an effort to deal with a sharp uptick in membership:
We’re just a small 10-bed hospice, a few volunteers, and we understand there was a huge campaign to inundate us. It was quite planned to completely overwhelm us and we don’t have the staff to take care of the request of all these people, I think, have fairly malicious intent to come after us. The membership is at the full discretion of the board of directors and it’s the board’s responsibility to take a look at every single application. We did our best to provide as many members as we could.
But the list of those excluded boasts several prominent locals, including former mayor Beth Johnson, former legislator Vicki Huntington, and at least one incumbent school trustee.
In light of all this, former board president Chris Pettypiece organized the Walk for Choice at Delta Hospice, and teamed up with Sharon Farrish and James Levin to petition the courts for a ruling against the board’s manipulation tactics and an injunction to prevent the vote from going forward with a cherry-picked voter base.
The case reached the Supreme Court on Friday, when Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick ruled that the board of directors acted in bad faith when screening membership applications and ordered the meeting stopped. Her ruling requires them to release a list of society members as well as a list of those who didn’t make the cut.
I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to speculate what sorts of political and religious affiliations the lists will show.
Pettypiece announced the good news at the Walk for Choice, where hundreds of people gathered:
I am so proud to stand here today and tell you that we won! The court ruled that the current board does not have the right to screen out members.
The court has also stated that Angelina Ireland and her current board have acted in bad faith to manipulate the vote.
Some attendees have called on the board of directors to step down in light of the court’s findings, among them Mayor George Harvie, who alluded to possible breaches of health and safety standards in the hospice:
I want to assure the good staff that are working under these awful conditions, stressful conditions, that we have their backs. We have a number of complaints from former and current members of the staff that have alerted us to inaccuracies and not following proper regulations, so we’re going to follow up on that.
He also announced his intention to revoke the tax-exempt status of the local Charity Shoppe, which sells used goods to generate funds for the hospice project, by 2021.
Meanwhile, Pettypiece calls on his fellow protesters and concerned citizens to get involved, apply for membership, and exercise their membership rights, including voting and attendance at the next general meeting.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)