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B.C. hospice loses funding after refusing to provide assistance in dying

VICTORIA — A hospice society in British Columbia is having its funding stopped because it will not comply with the province's policy on medical assistance in dying.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday that Fraser Health will halt funding to the Delta Hospice Society in 2021 after giving the organization a required one year's notice to end its service agreement without cause.

The contract gives the hospice about $1.5 million annually, which covers 94 per cent of the cost to operate 10 beds at the Irene Thomas Hospice.

Dix said "the crucial point" in the decision is that a patient's choice matters most.

"It is not a decision for any organization to impose or influence on patients. Put simply, an individual has the right to receive medical assistance in dying where they reside in B.C.," he told a news conference.

B.C. developed its policy after the federal government made it legal in 2016 for patients to get medical assistance in dying under certain circumstances. The provincial policy requires a hospice to allow patients to access medical assistance in dying if its beds are more than 50 per cent publicly funded.

A representative for the board of the Delta Hospice Society could not be reached for comment.

Liberal health critic Norm Letnick urged the government to work with the hospice society over the next year to find a solution to the issue.

The facility is on land owned by Fraser Health and the health authority will ensure people continue to have access to its 10 beds, Dix said.

In a statement, Dix said the province is "taking this action reluctantly" and a long-term solution is being explored for the hospice, which could include placing the Irene Thomas Hospice under public management.

"Given the significant financial contributions Delta community members made to build the facility, this would be the most desirable option," he said. "Alternatively, we could pursue another Delta site. In either scenario, the 10 hospice beds represented by the existing facility will stay in Delta."

Dix said patients make decisions about their medical care in consultation with their doctors and family, adding: "No organization can influence this decision or impose it.

"I respect anyone's right to disagree, and no one has ever required hospice staff to deliver medical assistance in dying, but they must allow eligible residents who want the service to access it."

The government says more than 3,000 people in B.C. have chosen medical assistance in dying in the past three years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25. 2020.


Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said funding for the hospice ended on Tuesday.