May 11th, 2021

Criticism of St. Joe’s home an unfair assessment

By Letter to the Editor on October 20, 2020.

Re: City’s assisted dying hurdles unfair, Oct. 10

Dear editor,

I appreciate Dr. Derie-Gillespie’s passionate advocacy for her patients, but I am also concerned about the tone of some of the quoted comments in the article.

In any free society, the values and beliefs of everyone need to be protected. I understand that moving a patient during a difficult time in order to provide MAID is inconvenient. Translating that frustration into criticism of St. Joe’s care and beliefs is unfair.

St. Joe’s was established as a hospice in 2012, five years before MHRH lost its palliative care unit, and prior to the legalization of MAID in 2015. The palliative care team at the time was ecstatic because they recognized the value and importance of the care that would be added to the community.

St. Joe’s continues to provide that same care with grace, dignity and fidelity to their pledge to “uphold the dignity of every human being throughout the entire continuum of life from conception to natural death.” Once legalized, MAID was provided first in the Palliative Care Unit at the hospital, and after the palliative space was lost in 2017, was provided primarily in the community. It remains available there.

The article implies that public funding should not go to a facility unless it provides all legal services, even if those services are contrary to its stated beliefs. Catholics, and those of any or even no religious denomination, are also members of the public. The 305 patients who have benefitted from St. Joe’s services in the last two years should not be discounted because six would like to choose care that is outside the facility’s belief system.

Even the patients who subsequently requested MAID benefitted from that same compassionate care while in St. Joe’s. Patients and families who disagree with the philosophy and limitations at St. Joseph’s are by no means obliged to receive care there. They may choose care at home or other facilities. Those in favour of MAID are free to disagree with St. Joe’s philosophy, but to direct criticism at the centre for believing differently, and to accuse it of being “non patient-centered” and “obstructive” is intolerant and denigrates their valuable contribution to palliative care in the community.

The implication in the article is that because MAID is legal, St. Joe’s should be obliged to provide it. Smoking is also legal, but I can’t imagine any physician advocating that all hospital funding be withdrawn unless smoking were again allowed in hospital rooms.

The fact that something is legal does not make it right. There are many contentious issues in our society which contravene traditional moral values and yet have been passed into law.

Being legal means that people may avail themselves of such services or follow said practices. Being legal, however, does not require all members of society to adopt those practices or beliefs. The value of a free society is that we can follow our own beliefs, even when they are divergent.

The challenge, or lynchpin if you will, is that we must also acknowledge other’s rights to do the same. We do best if we treat different viewpoints with civility and respect, regardless of our own feelings and beliefs.

The frustration expressed in the article at not being able to provide end-of-life care in a way consistent with the doctor’s beliefs may be born of compassion but fails to acknowledge the equally valid beliefs of the facility owners, also born of love and compassion. We need to be more careful how we treat each other, even when we disagree.

G.D. Prince, MD

Medicine Hat

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