On “Dying with Dignity”: When religion meets medicine

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 Google+ 0 StumbleUpon 0 Pin It Share 0 Email -- Filament.io 0 Flares ×

This guest post is written by Kate Harveston, a writer and political activist from Pennsylvania. She blogs about culture and politics, and the various ways that those elements act upon each other. For more of her work, you can follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her blog, Only Slightly Biased.

Healthcare forces us to make some of the most difficult decisions of our lives. In recent years, the issue of doctor-assisted euthanasia has become one of those.

There was a time when the practice simply wasn’t talked about. It is, however, part of our reality and one that pulls us in a number of moral directions. Add religion to the equation, and things become even more complicated.

Just such a choice has made things difficult for a Catholic hospital in Ontario, where euthanasia is not typically performed. One group is challenging whether the opt-out ability that Canada grants to hospitals is fair to patients who request the procedure.

Dying with Dignity disagrees

Canadian law seeks to find a middle ground on the topic of doctor-assisted suicide, but this is an issue where making everyone happy is a challenge. The activist group Dying with Dignity holds that because the hospital is a publicly-funded healthcare facility, the decision to have the procedure should fall to patients, not hospital administrators.

Part of the reason for their protest involves the uncomfortable situation that can arise when a patient requests medical assistance in dying (MAiD) at a facility like the one in this example. The hospital must transfer the patient to a facility that is willing to perform the procedure. Depending on where the patient is located, that can be quite an ordeal.

While the policy is an attempt at making everyone happy and skirting the sensitive legal matters that arise whenever medicine is the topic, it seems there is room for some refinement.

No information of hospital policy

Making things more difficult is the fact that Canadian privacy laws disallow hospitals from stating publicly whether they are willing to perform euthanasia. The ill and elderly who might want to have the procedure are unable to make an informed decision about where to receive care should their condition worsen.

In situations where patients request the procedure, transfers can sometimes be prolonged and agonizing. In one example of why this is so troublesome for patients, a British Columbian man who requested euthanasia last year at a facility that abstained from the procedure for religious reasons passed away during his transfer to the alternative facility.

The downside of this policy

Horst Saffarek endured a long and arduous battle with lung cancer before making a decision that surprised his entire family. Cancer had spread to his brain, and Saffarek felt that his state was too severe for him to go on. He requested MAiD, citing that he wanted to feel in control of his final moments.

The facility Saffarek entrusted with his care responded appropriately according to the law, and “respectfully and compassionately” according to CBC News. Despite their best intentions, however, Saffarek needed to make a long journey to receive the procedure.

Horst was transferred to a facility an hour-and- a-half away in Nanaimo, B.C. For family and those close to Saffarek, this was the opposite of what the man had requested — a quiet, peaceful end to life.

The MAiD treatment was never administered for Horst. While he did spend his final hours at rest with family nearby, the logistics of changing hospitals and establishing care at the new facility required most of the 24 hours that followed the actual transfer. Saffarek ran out of time.

Navigating a moral dilemma

The Canadian government demonstrates a desire to be respectful of all parties here, but could there be a way to adjust the law without offending religious hospitals? Information is at the centre of the debate.

Dying with dignity holds that all hospitals should be required to practice MAiD if a patient requests it, but a workable compromise could be simply allowing people to know which hospitals will administer the treatment. This would allow people seeking MAiD to avoid situations like Horst’s.

Religiously affiliated hospitals would not be forced to offer the procedure; however patients would have the information they need. As long as citizens could be respectful of those facilities, this solution seems like the simple answer.

For now, the matter is still undecided. Hopefully, Canadians can find a solution that is both open-minded and respectful for all parties.

Leave a Reply