The Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association (RMCLA), along with the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, hosted a debate this weekend to discuss issues surrounding access to Medical Assisted in Dying (MAID) under religious principles. The panel included legislative assembly members, social workers, professors of philosophy and health ethics, civil liberties association members, lawyers and an academic presenting on behalf of the Catholic community.
Alberta’s Covenant Health (“Covenant Health”) is Canada’s largest Catholic health care provider including 18 facilities, 14,000 staff, physicians and volunteers across Alberta. It was legislatively incorporated into the Alberta Legislature in 2009, under the Covenant Health Act, when it combined multiple publicly-funded, faith-based health care providers.
MAID advocates are concerned that faith-based health institutions are violating the Charter by denying patients access to medically assisted death. Covenant Health prohibits MAID, transferring patients elsewhere “when the time comes”.
“Forced transfers for assisted dying are wrong. Allowing facilities to forbid assisted death on their premises is an unfair burden on vulnerable Canadians and their families.”- Dying With Dignity Canada
It was argued that these potential Charter breaches impacts not only those who live in small towns where faith-based healthcare is the only option, but many in Edmonton where Covenant Health operates 90% of all palliative and hospice beds. One RMCLA member wrote that with such a diversity in the Canadian population there should not be an imposition of certain “religious beliefs on people who do not subscribe to that religion”.
Since the 2016 Supreme Court decision, Carter v Canada (AG), that the prohibition of assisted suicide was contrary to Canadian’s Charter Rights, Alberta’s implementation of MAID has been widely considered successful. With the presence of a large Catholic health care provider across the province, around 14% of the those who have accessed this service have been transferred from Covenant Health to a public facility. During the panel discussion, Covenant Health supporters emphasized that their staff take all the appropriate steps to help a “peaceful, expeditious and respectful” transition.
Dying With Dignity Canada has released a petition to pressure provincial leaders to take action, following a transfer gone wrong in a Vancouver hospital this month.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC.
 Covenant Health: Presentation to Minister’s Advisory Committee on Health, October, 20, 2009