January 19th, 2021

We are all bound by the law, not by religion

By Letter to the Editor on October 17, 2020.

Re: News article-October 10- Covenant Health’s refusal to allow medically assisted suicide at its St. Joseph’s Home hospice.

Dear editor,

This article reports on what I consider to be an undefendable and profoundly disturbing situation.

First, some facts. Covenant Health is funded by you and me – Alberta and Canadian taxpayers – through Alberta Health Services.

Among services available to all Canadians under our public health care system is medically-assisted suicide if a patient freely requests it, is competent to request it, and meets the qualifying medical criteria as set out in law.

Covenant Health is refusing to allow medically-assisted suicide on its St. Joseph’s Home premises solely because of Catholic Church dictates.

St. Joseph’s Home is the only local hospice, i.e. it, alone, exists for end of life public health care in southeast Alberta. It is paid government money solely to provide public health care for people who are so irrecoverably ill they will soon be dying.

Patients at St. Joseph’s Home who qualify for and wish to have medically assisted suicide are denied this service on site. They must, therefore, make arrangements to be transferred elsewhere. This happens to them at what is arguably the most delicate, private, and intensely personal time in their life.

It happens to them solely because their beliefs do not align with Catholic Church beliefs.

More facts. In the News article Dr. Derie-Gillespie noted that at a medically-assisted suicide the attending doctor and all other required staff come to the patient, and they bring all medications and supplies, including an I.V. pole. In other words, Covenant Health is required to provide nothing, except the peaceful place the patient is already in.

Secondly, the law. Alberta’s public health care system operates under the laws of both Canada and Alberta. Additionally, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees to each individual the right of freedom of religion, and the rights to equal benefit from the law and to equal protection of the law.

In the News article, a Covenant Health representative stated: “As faith-based providers in Alberta, Covenant Health operates under agreements that acknowledge our right to operate according to our own ethics and beliefs.”.(emphasis mine)

This attitude, and the agreements, presumably with Alberta Health Services, which allow this attitude to manifest itself in our public health care system are, in my opinion, repugnant to fairness and to common decency.

They are repugnant because health care only for the religious is as unacceptable as is health care only for the rich.

The attitude shown and the agreements spoken of in the quote are violations of human rights because our public health care system is both capable of and lawfully allowed to offer this service equally to all, yet religious beliefs of some people are permitted to hijack equal availability for all who want to receive the service.

Moreover, the attitude shown in the quote and the effects of the agreements spoken of in the quote are violations of the law in our country, ever since the fruits of the efforts of Tommy Douglas became legislation and, more recently, under Canada’s Charter for two reasons.

One, our guarantee of freedom of religion necessarily includes freedom from religion. If it does not, that guarantee is meaningless, because government can enshrine one religion in law and disallow all others. Covenant Health is being allowed to deny one aspect of health care to people who are not believers in the dictates of the Catholic Church, solely because those people are not believers. Religious freedom in Canada does include the imposition of one’s religious beliefs on others, who are entitled to be free from any religion and from all religion, if they choose.

Two, the attitude shown in the quote and the agreements mentioned in the quote deny some people equal benefit from and equal protection of the law, by having the effect of elevating mere religious dogma of some people to the status of law. In Canada we are all bound by the law, and we are all required to be bound by it. We are not all bound by, nor are we required to be bound by any particular religion.

Of the Alberta government and Alberta Health Services, I ask why, on this issue, do they fail to ensure equal access for all people to this publicly funded health care service? Of Covenant Health, I ask how they do the mental gymnastics necessary to distort their God’s commandment to them to “love thy neighbour as thyself”, and turn it into ” love only those neighbours whom you deem to be sufficiently like thyself.”?

Gregory R. Côté


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Fedup Conservative
Fedup Conservative
3 months ago

Well said. As retired doctors have been pointing out this governments plan for privatization is just a scheme to take our Public Health Care system away from the majority of Albertans and give their rich friends first priority. Like they have done by slashing their taxes. None of us think they have any intention of trying to pay for it from public funds when this province is in financial ruin, thanks to what they have done to us.
Blaming doctors, nurses, teachers, AISH recipients ,Ottawa and fake foreign corporations for the financial mess we in when it was our phony conservative governments of the past who created it is a joke.
we have all got to band together and put a stop to this insanity. ,

Les Landry
Les Landry
3 months ago

The Supreme Court of Canada did rule Doctors and clinics do have a legal right to refuse the “MAID” Medicine Assistance in Dying. But they are bound to refer the patient to a service provider.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision declaring the prohibition on medical assistance in dying (MAID) unconstitutional and the subsequent amendments to the Criminal Code concern some CMPA members who object for moral or religious reasons to helping patients end their lives.
Those physicians, and a number of medical associations, are particularly concerned about legislation and regulatory authority (College) policies that have been amended or created as a result of the Court’s decision. They want these laws and regulations to protect their right to refuse to participate in the practice.
In its decision, the Supreme Court did state that, based on freedom of conscience, physicians have the right to refuse to assist a patient to die. The Court also said that any legislative and regulatory response to its decision must reconcile the Charter rights of both patients and physicians. The federal legislation implementing MAID provides that nothing compels medical practitioners to provide or assist in providing MAID. However, neither the Court nor the federal legislation specifically addresses whether physicians who refuse to assist a patient in dying on moral or religious grounds might be required to refer the patient. This issue can be significant for physicians who see a referral as morally equivalent to personally assisting a patient to die.
The concern with a mandatory duty to refer a patient for MAID originates, in part, from positions taken previously by some Colleges. Several Colleges have stated that physicians who are unwilling to provide certain care (e.g. birth control prescriptions, abortions) due to their moral or religious beliefs must refer the patient to another healthcare provider who will provide those services.
Colleges have adopted guidelines concerning MAID, which generally state that physicians who object to assisting patients to die are expected to provide sufficient information and resources to enable patients to make their own informed choice and to access options for care, or to provide an effective referral to another physician or resource.