Forcing religious-run health centres to allow assisted suicide

All hospitals and hospices will be forced to allow euthanasia to take place on site, with no exception, according to a law recently passed in the Australian state of New South Wales.

Pro-life health care facilities will be obliged to allow external doctors to access patients who have requested assisted suicide. The Australian state of Queensland has a similar provision.

Some faith-based groups offering health care had requested an exemption for reasons of freedom of conscience but with no success.

“This law will force organisations that do not agree with assisted dying to allow doctors onto their premises to prescribe and even administer restricted drugs with the intention of terminating a resident’s life – without even informing the facility,” said Brigid Meney, of Catholic Health Australia. “These laws ignore the rights of staff and residents who may choose to work and live in a particular residential facility because of their opposition to assisted dying.”

This is a dangerous breach of medical ethics that erodes freedom of conscience rights.

Belgium was the second country in the world to introduce euthanasia, just 20 years ago, and in 2020 they amended the law to prevent any institution from objecting to euthanasia being practiced within its premises.

In Canada, where euthanasia is legal, religious-based health institutions are currently exempted from offering it but two months ago the Dying with Dignity lobby has started a campaign to remove those exemptions.

Opposition to euthanasia is prevalent among the health care professionals, particularly in those offering palliative case, and it is not necessarily motivated by religious faith as the Irene Thomas Hospice case in British Columbia (Canada) shows.

Last year the Irene Thomas Hospice, which is not religiously affiliated, was forced to issue layoff notices to all its staff after the local health authority cancelled the $1.5 million per year contract with them for refusing to provide “assisted death” on their premises.

The Delta Hospice Society (DHS), a non-profit organisation that owned the hospice and is inspired by the principles of palliative care, offered to operate it without public funds, but the local health authority expropriated the facilities because they are built on public land and DHS refuse to participate in euthanasia.

DHS are simply following Hippocratic medicine, which never permits killing a patient. Hippocratic medicine predates Christianity by several centuries.

There is a fear that other hospices will be compelled to follow the same route as the Irene Thomas Hospice and will be shuttered, unless they betray their own principles.

The Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) and the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians have released a joint statement clearly saying that hospice palliative care is not compatible with ‘Medical Assistance in Dying’ (MAiD).

“Hospice palliative care and MAiD substantially differ in multiple areas including in philosophy, intention and approach. Hospice palliative care focuses on improving quality of life and symptom management through holistic person-centered care for those living with life threatening conditions. Hospice palliative care sees dying as a normal part of life and helps people to live and die well. Hospice palliative care does not seek to hasten death or intentionally end life.”, they stated.

We often hear that euthanasia and palliative care should not be presented as exclusive alternatives but, instead, as two different choices to be offered to the same patient.

But if the law imposes euthanasia everywhere and allows no space for institutional conscientious objection, many professionals will leave medicine or move to areas not affected by the law, provoking a degradation of the services offered.

It also means that patients can no longer be assured that the place in which they are being cared for never permits assisted suicide or euthanasia.

This totalitarian attitude that leaves no exception should be rejected in principle, as it denies freedom of conscience, but also for practical reasons, as it alienates good health institutions who want to offer Hippocratic medicine.