A Canadian judge has blocked a hospice society from initiating a vote by membership on becoming a Christian society, which if adopted would have exempted it from the legal obligation to allow euthanasia — the killing of sick patients by lethal injection — onsite.
The Delta Hospice Society, which runs the 10-bed Irene Thomas Hospice, planned to launch the mail-in vote to its 1,500 members at a special meeting this Monday.
But British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Shelley Fitzpatrick ordered the meeting cancelled at the request of three pro-euthanasia ex-board members, the CBC reported.
“We are highly concerned with the lack of justice in the court system today,” the society’s board chair Angelina Ireland said in a statement.
“We are appealing,” the society’s lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos told LifeSiteNews in an email.
Pro-euthanasia petitioner Chris Pettypiece told CBC the judge ruled June 12 that the society’s board acted in bad faith to manipulate the vote by rejecting membership applications.
Pettypiece said the judge ordered the board to provide a list of all members and all rejected applications to the petitioners, who also include former board chair Jim Levin and former hospice acting executive director Sharon Farrish.
But Ireland argued in an affidavit that the board rejected 310 membership applications and accepted others based on whether or not it could determine if an applicant would uphold the society’s constitution, in compliance with the Societies Act stipulation that members “must uphold the constitution and bylaws.”
She pointed out that the society would lose $11,500 in “lost sunk costs,” including the $8,500 it spent on printing and postage, if the special meeting were cancelled or postponed.
Ireland also stated in her affidavit that the three petitioners “colluded” with Alex Muir of the Vancouver chapter of the Dying with Dignity in their efforts to change the hospice’s position to not allow euthanasia onsite.
Seizure of hospice building, loss of tax status possible
In a further setback, Delta city council unanimously approved a motion Monday to notify the society’s board that its thrift store — which raises money for the society’s home-based programs — will lose its tax exemption if the society changes its constitution to restrict membership, the Delta Optimist reported.
Delta Mayor George Harvie promised as much during a pro-euthanasia rally Saturday, where he urged the hundreds in attendance to buy memberships for the society and called on Ireland and the current board to “do the right thing, resign on Monday.”
The Delta Hospice Society has been under increasing pressure by the NDP government and the Fraser Health Authority to allow euthanasia onsite ever since Canada legalized the lethal injection of sick patients, or “Medical Aid in Dying” (MAiD), in 2016.
The media and euthanasia advocates, who have mounted personal attacks against Ireland on social media, have inflamed the dispute, which has bitterly divided the West coast community south of Vancouver.
Hospice founder and longtime executive director Nancy Macey steadfastly opposed euthanasia as incompatible with palliative care, and asserted that the society’s constitution does not allow any practice that would hasten a patient’s death.
Both the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) and the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians (CSPCP) are backing the society.
“National and international hospice palliative care organizations are unified in the position that MAiD is not part of the practice of hospice palliative care,” the organizations said in a joint statement in November.
However, in September 2019, the board, which then included Levin and Pettypiece, fired Macey and hired Farrish as acting executive director, and two months later voted to allow euthanasia onsite.
A week later, the society’s membership ousted the pro-euthanasia board members during a turbulent annual general meeting in which Ireland was elected chair.
On February 25, 2020, NDP health minister Adrian Dix announced the province was cutting the society’s $1.5 million in public funding effective February 2021.
Dix also said the province is considering expropriating the hospice building, which was built by the society with $8.5 million in privately raised funds, but which sits on land leased to the society by the Fraser Health Authority.
As a result, the society accelerated its plans to vote on becoming a Christian entity. The government exempts faith-based institutions from having to allow euthanasia onsite.
“Since its founding, the Society operated successfully with foundational Christian principles of service, love, kindness, honesty, integrity, and excellence and support the sanctity of life. Palliative medicine has the tools to manage suffering,” Macey wrote in an affidavit submitted to the court.
“As the founder and former Executive Director of the Society and as a current member in good standing, I continue to support the interpretation of the Society’s Constitution being that its purposes are to provide palliative care and the medical, emotional and spiritual components of care that offer comfort, meaning, dignity and hope.”
The vote the board planned to launch at Monday’s meeting was to amend the society’s constitution to include this clause as part of its mandate: “to fulfill God’s calling to serve the sick and dying, and to follow Christ’s teachings and example in all we do.”
The vote would have been open until June 26, and two-thirds of the membership would have to approve the change for it to pass.
Euthanasia advocates are alleging that if the hospice become a Christian society, it won’t welcome non-Christians, a false claim Ireland has consistently refuted, but which has nevertheless created “this big backlash,” Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told LifeSiteNews.
The Delta Hospice Society has to appeal the judge’s order, he said.
“They don’t have a choice. It doesn’t make any sense if such a decision could hold. If this decision holds, it changes the nature of non-profit corporations or independent corporations anywhere in Canada,” Schadenberg said.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has launched a petition supporting the hospice that has more than 26,000 signatures.