Firestorm erupts as B.C Hospice looks at becoming a Christian society to avoid providing euthanasia — planned vote by membership is blocked by B.C. Supreme Court decision

The Delta Hospice Society, which operates the Irene Thomas Hospice, is considering appealing a June 12 B.C. Supreme Court decision that blocked members from voting on whether to become a Christian society. (Photo by Agnieszka, The B.C. Catholic - CCN)

By Agnieszka Ruck, The B.C. Catholic

UPDATED June 14, 2020: Delta Hospice considering appeal after B.C. Supreme Court halts vote

[Vancouver – Canadian Catholic News] – The Delta Hospice Society is considering appealing a B.C. Supreme Court decision blocking its members from voting to change their constitution.

The B.C. Supreme Court decision was delivered Friday, June 12. According to former board member Christopher Pettypiece, who filed the petition, the court stopped a June 15 meeting that would have launched a mail-in vote asking membership if they were interested in becoming a Christian society. Pettypiece also said the judge said the board acted in bad faith and manipulated the vote by rejecting some membership applications to the society. The court has not yet published the order.

“We’re delighted with the outcome,” Pettypiece told the Delta Optimist.

But Delta Hospice Society president Angelina Ireland is disappointed with the ruling and told The B.C. Catholic an appeal is being considered.

“The Delta Hospice Society is a private society – not public,” she said.

In an affidavit filed to the B.C. Supreme Court, Ireland argued the society’s acceptance of certain membership applications, and its rejection of 310 of them, was in line with the Societies Act. She added cancelling or postponing the extraordinary meeting results in $11,500 in costs for the small non-profit.

The Delta Hospice Society has been under fire after steadfastly refusing to permit euthanasia or assisted suicide (known as “Medical Aid in Dying” or “MAiD”) in the Irene Thomas Hospice in Delta. The society oversees the 10-bed hospice as well as a charity thrift shop and various community programs for the very ill and dying and their families.

Ireland and hospice founder Nancy Macey maintain assisted suicide is contrary to the aims of hospice care and the society’s constitution. The mail-in ballot scheduled June 15 would have asked the 1,500 members of the society if they were in favour of becoming a Christian society (see article below). Faith-based organizations are currently exempt from the mandate to allow assisted suicide on their premises.

Two-thirds of voters have to be in favour to effect any change.

“We are highly concerned with the lack of justice in the court system today,” Ireland said in response to the June 12 court decision.

While that conversation has been blocked from the ballot box, it has been playing out in the public arena. Hundreds of people were seen protesting the Delta Hospice Society board at a Ladner park June 13, wearing masks and carrying slogans including “My Life My Choice” and “Save our hospice! Choice for ALL!”

Pettypiece and MLA Ian Paton were among those at the rally.

“I stand in solidarity with the hospice staff, volunteers, and donors who have publicly denounced the cynical gamesmanship of the current hospice board. It’s time for Angelina Ireland to do the right thing and resign as chair of the board and give this hospice back to the people of Delta,” said Paton, the Delta Optimist reported.

But a sizeable number of people support the hospice’s stance on euthanasia; an online petition by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition supporting the hospice and opposing assisted suicide in hospice facilities has more than 26,000 signatures.

For more on this story, see previous B.C. Catholic coverage, below.:

Firestorm erupts as B.C Hospice looks at becoming a Christian society

By Agnieszka Ruck, The B.C. Catholic

[Vancouver – June 12, 2020 – Canadian Catholic News] – A 10-bed hospice embroiled in debate for refusing to allow euthanasia on site is now under another layer of controversy as it considers becoming a Christian society.

The Irene Thomas Hospice is a small, private facility in Delta, BC, offering palliative care without euthanasia or assisted suicide for 29 years. But since ending a patient’s life through euthanasia was legalized in 2016, the hospice has been facing increasing pressure to permit it on site.

The hospice board has steadfastly refused, saying euthanasia is at odds with its philosophy of end-of-life care. The hospice’s position has resulted in an outcry from advocates of assisted dying, heated debate playing out in the community and local newspaper, and threats from the provincial government culminating in an announcement that the hospice will lose all of its government funding by 2021.

Now Delta Hospice Society president Angelina Ireland says the board of directors is turning to society members to determine a path forward amid the firestorm. The board planned to hold a special general meeting June 15 to ask members whether they want to become a Christian society.

Faith-based organizations are not compelled to provide euthanasia, under the policies of the Fraser Health Authority and the Ministry of Health in B.C.

The plan called for the vote to be open until June 26 and conducted by mail-in ballot due to restrictions on large gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The society has 1,500 members, two-thirds of whom would have to vote yes for the board to go ahead with the change.

The amended constitution would include the following clause in the Delta Hospice Society’s mandate: “to fulfill God’s calling to serve the sick and dying, and to follow Christ’s teachings and example in all we do.”

Ireland said the move shows the hospice is committed to continuing what it has done for the community for nearly 30 years.

“We have taken the very strong position that we do not want to have euthanasia in the hospice, that we will not promote it as a private society, and the basis of that feeling, which we believe from our membership as well as from ourselves, is Christian-based,” Ireland told The B.C. Catholic.

In response, the board has been accused of “going rogue” in its decision to not allow euthanasia on-site, of hand-picking membership applications, and of hijacking the society to impose its religious views on others.

When B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced government funding would be completely withdrawn from the hospice, he accused the society of withholding patients’ medical rights.

“Putting the patient first is what matters most,” said Dix. “No organization can influence this decision or impose it. I respect anyone’s right to disagree, and no one has ever required hospice staff to deliver medical assistance in dying, but they must allow eligible residents who want the service to access it.”

He said, “when the role of the Delta Hospice Society concludes, patients in publicly funded hospice care will again be able to fully access their medical rights.”

Ireland maintains becoming a Christian society would not affect the hospice’s day-to-day activities. For example, it would not require staff or patients to be Christians.

“Everybody would be invited and included – that’s the basis of Christian love and hospitality,” she said. “Affirming that philosophy would affirm the protection of life from euthanasia. That’s the foundation of it all. That’s all we’ve been about: protecting palliative care.”

Constitutional lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos, who is representing the hospice, said the board’s interest in becoming a Christian society has been a long time coming.

“The Delta Hospice Society has been a non-religious or secular corporation officially for the last 30 years, but was founded by a Christian woman with a Christian board and its mission as to provide palliative care was in conjunction with Christian values,” he said. “It wasn’t officially Christian organization but it operated as one.”

Nancy Macey, who founded the Delta Hospice Society on her kitchen table in 1991, was personally opposed to assisted suicide. She has spoken up against allowing euthanasia in palliative care centres, saying the very ill and dying should have the option to receive care in a euthanasia-free facility.

“It has been a rule by decree,” said Ireland. “We have been given directives and then they further and further and further put us in the vice trying to squeeze us to surrender and squeeze us to accept all of the things that are coming down from above.”

“No one ever had a conversation with us, any level of government, any agency. In a democracy, at least you would expect the government would give you an opportunity to at least say your piece, to at least to say your side of the story. We have not been given that.”

Ireland added that she understands the concerns of locals who see Delta Hospice as denying them access to euthanasia, a legal and recognized medical practice in Canada, but believes the concerns are unfounded.

“I understand their frustration because a lot of them want access,” she said.

“But of course they do have access to it in our community. They have access to it in the Delta Hospital and they certainly have access to it in their own homes.”

Polizogopoulos said there is a “a narrative being put forward that a few members of the board are trying to change the direction of the society. But the society wants to do the same thing it’s been doing for three decades.” It is the government who is trying to force change on them, he said.

Delta South MLA Ian Paton initially criticized Dix’s decision, accusing him of “swooping in to take over” the hospice and of “stealing assets from the people of Delta,” but he quickly backtracked after criticism, saying he supports euthanasia being provided in publicly-funded facilities.

Paton then went further, raising alarm bells over whether the hospice violated the B.C. Societies Act after it denied membership applications to various local people without clear explanations. Former board president Jim Levin and others filed a petition to the B.C. Supreme Court last week alleging the society is going against the Societies Acts and Emergency Program Act.

Ireland said the society imposed a cap of 1,500 memberships after the board of volunteers was “inundated” with applications and believed the sudden rise in membership requests was a “concerted campaign” to put pressure on them.

“The fact that we decided that we can’t manage any more people has caused a real issue, which we clearly have to go back and think about,” she said, adding that it’s unusual for a small, private society to have so many members.
“There’s not even a place we can all meet for an AGM.”

Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, has spoken out against imposing assisted suicide in hospice and palliative care settings where “compassionate caregivers … are committed to making the final stages of life for the elderly, sick, and suffering meaningful and dignified.”

The federal government passed Bill C-277 in 2017 calling for a national palliative care framework, including improving access to palliative care, raising awareness of its benefits, and supporting the improvement of palliative care skills for health care providers and caregivers.

At the time, MP Marilyn Gladu who put forward the bill said 70 per cent of Canadians don’t have access to palliative care. This is still the case today, say the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians.

Ireland said she would like to see federal and provincial governments do more to support palliative care rather than force unwilling hospices to provide euthanasia and threaten to take away their government funding.