IT IS our last human right, the right to choose not to suffer at the end of life. The Supreme Court of Canada made this a charter right. The government of Canada made this a legal right. Faith-based institutions, including St. Joseph’s Hospital, deny us this right.

The institutions accept our tax dollars, and yet deny us our right. As Canadians, we should be horrified that this is allowed. We must not accept such barbaric treatment. It is cruel, and surely, the antithesis of anything Christ-like, to force the most vulnerable, pain-filled people into an ambulance so that the institutions’ view of sanctity of life is upheld.

Juliet Guichon, a bioethicist at the University of Calgary, said that religious facilities that force patients out, in order to have an assisted death, are causing vulnerable patients suffering because of a decision that benefits only the institution. She asks, “How can such harm be justified?”

Dr. Tanja Daws, a provider of medical aid in dying, said she has witnessed forced transfers of patients in their final stages of life and it is horrifying. She has witnessed patients cry out in agony as they are moved to a different location.

We must fight this. We must fight against the right of religious institutions to take our tax dollars while denying us our charter and legal right. In a shameful decision, in December of 2016, Ontario’s Bill 41 became law, granting faith-based organizations the right to refuse medical aid in dying to eligible patients. The institutions do not have to publicly declare their position on aid in dying.

Patients beware.

On May 16, Ontario’s highest court ruled that doctors who, for religious reasons, are opposed to medical aid in dying, must provide an effective referral. In the unanimous ruling, the judges said “It is impossible to conceive of a more private, emotional or challenging issue for any patient. There is compelling evidence that patients will suffer harm in the absence of an effective referral.”

Reason and compassion trumped religion. Reason and compassion will also force faith-based institutions to offer assisted dying.

The church is intractable in its stand. It will likely take a court challenge, at great taxpayer expense, to change what is happening. It has often been suggested that a room in such a facility could be declared “not of the facility” with the room then being available for assisted dying. (When Princess Margriet of the Netherlands was born during the war in Ottawa, the maternity ward of Ottawa Civic Hospital was temporarily declared to be extraterritorial to ensure the newborn would be Dutch.)

If that is not acceptable to faith-based institutions, then our tax dollars must be denied them.

Since medical aid in dying was legalized in 2016, almost 7,000 Canadians have died using this choice. Most requests were due to cancer, with the average age of the dying person being 72.

This last human right is about choice.

Can you imagine the circumstances in which you would want a medically assisted death for yourself? It is your life and your choice.

Sheila Noyes

Thunder Bay (Dying with Dignity Canada)

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