Covenant Health has released its policy for responding to requests for medical assistance in dying (MAID), but some politicians say it doesn’t go far enough.
The policy was released Monday and came into effect that same day — Dec. 3, 2018.
“The new Covenant Health policy confirms that assessments will take place onsite at Covenant Health facilities,” a statement from the health group said Tuesday.
“However, the AHS Care Coordination Service, in collaboration with the patient/resident and family, may choose to make alternative arrangements for assessment and documentation of forms, if that is the person’s wish.”
The document comes after several reports Alberta patients seeking assessments for medically assisted deaths were forced out of Covenant Health facilities and in some cases, onto the side of busy roads, to have these assessment meetings.
In October, Terry Nowicki said his wife Doreen, who had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, wanted a medically assisted death. Her family had tried to get her into several hospitals before she was given a palliative care bed at the Catholic-run Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre.
However, the facility wouldn’t let her have the medically assisted dying assessment on its property, and she was forced to go outside, on the sidewalk, to do it.
Medically assisted death became legal in Canada in June 2016.
Covenant Health, a faith-based health organization, will not offer MAID services at its hospitals, but is legally bound to help arrange for patients to access them elsewhere.
Physicians have the right to opt out of providing MAID for moral or religious reasons, but they must make referrals that ensure patients can access the service somewhere else.
“As a Catholic health care organization, Covenant Health is committed to uphold the inherent dignity of every human being throughout the entire continuum of life from conception to natural death,” its policy reads.
“Therefore, Covenant Health will not provide nor explicitly refer for MAID given the incompatibility of MAID with the organization’s mission and ethical tradition. At the same time, Covenant Health is committed to the principles of justice and non-abandonment, and thus must ensure persons in our care seeking further information, assessment, and potentially, provision of MAID are able to access navigation resources within the health system which can facilitate these processes independently of Covenant Health.”
Scroll down to read Covenant Health’s MAID policy in full.
WATCH: The province is under fire for allowing faith-based hospitals in Alberta to deny the rights of patients who want medically-assisted death. (January 16, 2018)
Alberta’s health minister is pleased with the new MAID policy.
“Every patient in Alberta deserves the same level of dignified and compassionate care, no matter what health care facility they attend,” Sarah Hoffman said in a statement to Global News.
“The new Covenant Health policy ensures assessments and records of decisions will be completed onsite Covenant facilities, in accordance with patients’ wishes.
“This is a good step forward and we will continue to work with our partners to ensure that patients are supported and their wishes are respected.”
However, the Alberta Liberal party has concerns with some of the policy’s wording.
The section of Covenant Health’s policy reads:
“The AHS Care Coordination Service will assume responsibility for those aspects of the MAID process within their mandate and which are not otherwise able to be coordinated directly by the requesting individual and/or their family/supports. This includes witnessing and signing of the ‘Record of Request,’ and arrangements for conducting formal assessments of eligibility and potential transfers.
“It is understood that such activities may occur on Covenant Health sites but will not be arranged by Covenant staff.
“It is expected that assessments conducted by the AHS Care Coordination Service on a Covenant Health site would be held in an appropriate setting, including, but not limited to the patient or resident’s room, or a private meeting room at a Covenant Health facility if that is more appropriate for the assessment.”
The concern from the Alberta Liberals is the word “may” leaves the policy open to interpretation.
“As far as I can tell, it uses the word ‘may’ instead of ‘must,’ in terms of assessments,” leader David Khan said.
“At the very minimum, they should be allowing assessments for those patients so they’re not hauled out of the homes that they’ve lived in, sometimes for years, and have to be transported for a simple assessment.
“This really doesn’t go far enough for us,” Khan said.
Covenant Health insists all assessments will be allowed on site but used the word “may” in case a patient chose to make other arrangements.
The Liberals would like to see all insured procedures available at all publicly funded facilities.
“It’s incredibly difficult for patients who’ve lived there for years to have to be moved off site for a MAID procedure to be done,” Khan said.
“We’re not calling for any health professionals to be forced to participate in the procedures but we shouldn’t be forcing Albertans out of publicly funded institutions for any kind of insured service and a constitutional right at that.
“We understand it may go against people’s closely held religious beliefs and we’re not calling on people to be forced in any way to participate in these procedures but there could be a mobile team that could come in and compassionately provide the service for Albertans.”
WATCH: An Edmonton judge granted John Tuckwell the right to a physician-assisted death. (June 8, 2016)