Contradictory values fuel assisted-dying debate

"I was the medical director of palliative care at St. Boniface during the service’s first 15 years. I am not a Roman Catholic. I have publicly supported medical assistance in dying (MAID)."

Read this article on the Winnipeg Free Press website.

The Free Press published Dan Lett’s strongly felt and very personal challenge to St. Boniface Hospital’s refusal to allow deliberate ending of life ("The torturous ethics of assisted dying," June 24).

In response, let me express my personal views. I was the medical director of palliative care at St. Boniface during the service’s first 15 years. I am not a Roman Catholic. I have publicly supported medical assistance in dying (MAID). Here are some considerations to counter Lett’s views:

First, a perspective on the historic position of St. Boniface. Second, a reality check on Lett’s presentation. Finally, a suggestion for resolution, specifically for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority in relation to the hospital.

St. Boniface still embodies the Grey Nuns’ mission. They brought hospital service to Manitoba. The quality of caring has made it a place where Dr. Marcus Blouw likes to work, even though he disagrees with the hospital’s position on MAID.

If St. Boniface were forced to allow MAID, the Catholic Health Corporation of Manitoba would have to abandon the hospital. I fear that their historic commitment to compassionate care would be reduced.

"Times change," but trends come and go rapidly while old values persist.

What was recently the dominant value can become that of a minority.

The new law has defined an exception to the prohibition of taking a person’s life — that is, to murder. It allows MAID; it does not force MAID on anyone.

If St. Boniface holds its position on MAID, as it has held its position on abortion, the consequence for health service in Winnipeg will be equally small. How much gain and how much loss if the hospital holds firm?

Lett has displayed some unrealistic thinking. In his distress over his mother’s decline and suffering, he wonders "what my family would have elected to do (etc.)."

By law, MAID can only be provided in response to a request by a competent person and not by proxy; family may support or reject the person’s request but family has no authority.

And, Lett concludes with the impossible "hope that secularists and people of faith can agree on (how people can) prove themselves to God." For the faithful, God is the basis of understanding life and of living morally, while for secularists there is no place in discussion for a non-existent "God."

Finally, can we live in a society with contradictory values?

I suggest that facilities which provide MAID could establish a procedure to receive transferred patients. A doctor in St. Boniface can discharge a patient. There is time to transfer; time for assessment of a request is required by law. A transfer can be made comfortably.

Does anyone think St. Boniface would block the transfer of a competent patient by countering a doctor’s discharge order?

Dr. Paul D. Henteleff is founding president of the Canadian Palliative Care Association.