Providence Health reveals 19 patients were forced to transfer this year due to its MAID policy

Nineteen people this year have been forced to transfer out of Providence Health Care facilities to access medical assistance in dying (MAID), a scenario advocates say proves the attempted fix by the province isn’t good enough.

Nine of those patients were transferred out of Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital, four from Mount Saint Joseph Hospital, four from May’s Place Hospice and two from St. John Hospice. 

Those figures were provided by Providence Health to CBC News Tuesday. 

The Catholic health-care provider that oversees St. Paul’s Hospital is being sued by the family of a Vancouver woman over its policy banning MAID in its facilities. If a patient requests MAID, they must be transferred to a different health facility, typically run by Vancouver Coastal Health.

That’s what happened to 34-year-old Samantha O’Neill in April 2023 when she requested a medically assisted death as the suffering from her terminal cancer became unbearable.

She was in so much pain, she had to be sedated for the 12-kilometre ambulance ride to a hospice, according to a statement of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday. As a result, her parents had to say their final goodbyes to O’Neill while she was on a commode at St. Paul’s, instead of at the bedside before the life-ending medication was administered. 

Samantha O’Neill is seen running a race. Her mother Gaye O’Neill described her daughter as an ‘active, loving, vegan marathoner.’ She was suffering from Stage 4 cervical cancer when she chose a medically assisted death in April 2023 at the age of 34. (Submitted by Jim O’Neill)

O’Neill died April 4, 2023. Now her parents are suing Providence and the province of B.C., saying the policy violated her Charter rights. 

After Jim and Gaye O’Neill went public with their concerns, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced in November that the health ministry will be setting up a clinical space next to St. Paul’s where MAID can be provided with the oversight of Vancouver Coastal Health staff. 

“Vancouver Coastal Health is organizing and building that hospice care, end-of-life care to make sure everyone has access, without going somewhere else, to MAID,” Dix said Tuesday.

A white man wearing a patterned tie looks down.
Health Minister Adrian Dix says the province will provide a space operated by Vancouver Coastal Health staff to provide MAID services near St. Paul’s Hospital. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Workaround called ‘absurd’

Daphne Gilbert, a University of Ottawa professor who helped human-rights charity Dying with Dignity Canada with the legal challenge, said Providence Health’s own data shows forced transfers are not just happening at St. Paul’s. 

“Providence Health Care runs facilities outside of St Paul’s so they have many other institutions where they don’t allow medical assistance in dying so that’s the first reason that solution is only a Band-Aid,” she said. 

Jim O’Neill says the workaround is “absurd.”

“What’s outrageous is Minister Dix and Providence Health Care come up with the new plan for this MAID purpose-built facility directly beside St. Paul’s Hospital,” he told CBC News. “They eliminate the vehicle transfer, which is a big win, but they still don’t eliminate the unnecessary harm.”

WATCH | Parents of B.C. woman take province, health-care authority to court over MAID: 

Vancouver woman’s family sues province, hospital operator over MAID policy

The family of a Vancouver woman who was forced to transfer hospitals before she could receive medical assistance in dying, otherwise known as MAID, is suing the B.C. government and Providence Health. As CBC’s Katie DeRosa reports, they claim the Catholic health authority’s ban on MAID in its facilities violates patients’ charter rights.

Four of the transfers out of St. Paul’s were witnessed in the last week by Dr. Jyothi Jayaraman, a Vancouver-based palliative care doctor and MAID practitioner.

One of those people was in so much pain they had to be sedated for the transfer, said Jayaraman, who is also a plaintiff in the case. 

None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been proven in court. Providence Health Care did not make anyone available for an interview Tuesday. 

A South Asian woman wearing a black coat and a red top is pictured outdoors.
Dr. Jyothi Jayaraman says she personally witnessed forced transfers from Providence Health Care facilities due to the Catholic-run health authority’s refusal to perform MAID services. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The health authority received more than $800 million in public funding last year to operate hospitals, long-term care facilities and hospices in the Lower Mainland. 

During an unrelated press conference in Surrey on Tuesday, B.C. Premier David Eby responded to the court case. 

“The family’s choice to go to court, I respect 100 per cent,” he said. “The families and the people who have access to MAID and have made the decision to end their lives in this way have our government’s full support around the care that they deserve to ensure their wishes are carried out in a way that is respectful.”

Eby said the government is working closely with Providence around how MAID will be delivered in the new $2 billion St. Paul’s Hospital replacement, which is slated for completion in 2027. However he did not release further details.

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