February 24, 2024

Canadian Catholic hospital drops opposition to MAiD after criticism from bioethicist

A Catholic hospital in Nova Scotia has quietly changed its policy on euthanasia

A Catholic hospital in Nova Scotia has quietly changed its policy on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD), after heavy criticism from euthanasia advocacy groups and pro-euthanasia academics. 

St Martha’s Regional Hospital Complex in Antigonish is a facility under the control of the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NVHA), although it retains a Catholic designation. The hospital’s founders, the Sisters of St Martha, reached an agreement with NVHA in 1996 to hand over administration of hospital to a secular board, while being given assurances that procedures such as euthanasia and abortion would not be provided in the facility. The Sisters believe in protecting life until the end. 

Yet St Martha’s is the major hospital for several counties in Nova Scotia, and critics argued that the hospital’s ban on MAiD was preventing patients from accessing a legal medical procedure. 

Dying with Dignity Canada (DWDC) had even threatened to sue the hospital for violating patients’ rights.

In response, the hospital’s board recently announced that MAiD will be made available at St Martha’s. 

In a statement to Global News, the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) said: “Assessments and provision of MAiD [medical assistance in dying] will be available in a section of St. Martha’s Regional Hospital complex at the Antigonish Health and Wellness Centre.”

Yet the shock decision was not just the result of pressure from DWDC. The hospital had also been criticised by outspoken bioethics Dalhousie University law academic Jocelyn Downie. 

“…it's indefensible to have a publicly funded institution have a faith-based filter on the services that are available”, Downie told Canadian reporters in December 2018, singling out St Martha’s in particular. 

Downie welcomed news of the hospital’s change in policy. “Governments and health authorities have failed to insist that faith-influenced, publicly funded institutions permit MAiD within their walls,” she said. “[The decision] is a conclusion that will reduce suffering, respect autonomy and be consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

The St Martha’s controversy comes as pressure mounts from bioethicists around the world for Catholic healthcare providers to drop their bans on controversial medical procedures. Conversative bioethicist Wesley Smith recently published a stinging opinion piece in the National Review, denouncing a concerted campaign among bioethicists to take away the liberties of Catholic healthcare institutions and Catholic medical professionals. 

“Most bioethicists, it is fair to say, seek to destroy Catholic institutions’ and professionals’ medical conscience rights and force them (and other religious or conscience dissenters) to adhere to the advancing utilitarian bioethical imperative”.  

Xavier Symons is deputy editor of BioEdge 

Canadian Catholic hospital drops opposition to MAiD after criticism from bioethicists
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