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Woman wins right to use term ‘death midwife’ in B.C. Supreme Court

A B.C. woman has won the right to call herself a death "midwife" after the province's supreme court struck down legislation restricting use of the term.
A B.C. woman has won the right to call herself a death "midwife" after the province's supreme court struck down legislation restricting use of the term. Pixabay

A B.C. woman who provides support and planning services for people nearing the end of their lives has won the right in court to call herself a “death midwife.”

In a ruling released Wednesday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Neena Sharma found blocking Pashta MaryMoon from using the title violated her constitutional right to free expression.

“Death midwives,” sometimes known as “death doulas,” provide spiritual, emotional and physical care to a person nearing the end of their lives.

WATCH: What is a death doula? Emerging profession changing how we deal with death

What is a death doula? Emerging profession changing how we deal with death
What is a death doula? Emerging profession changing how we deal with death

The practice has been growing in popularity in recent years, to the point that B.C.’s Douglas College even offers a program for death doulas.

The College of Midwives of British Columbia had sought an injunction to stop MaryMoon from calling herself a midwife.

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READ MORE: Death doulas transforming how we die in Canada

The college argued that MaryMoon is not a member of the College of Midwives, and that her use of the midwife title violated B.C.’s Health Professions Act (HPA).

According to the ruling, MaryMoon has been providing what she calls “deathcare services” for more than 40 years, has a degree in world religions focusing on “the modern approach to death and the taboos around it,” and formal training as a “death midwife” from the U.S.

WATCH: What is a death doula?

What is a death doula?
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The court heard how MaryMoon’s website states death midwives share similar philosophies with birth midwives, but provide opposite services, and are not registered with colleges of midwives or covered by the Health Profession Act.

READ MORE: B.C. college trains ‘death doulas’ to guide Canadians through their final days

“There is no dispute that the respondent describes her vocation as being a ‘death midwife,'” states the ruling.

“Nor is it disputed that she is not registered with the College. It is also not contested that she has never performed, and does not purport to perform, any midwifery services for pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy and delivery.”

In her ruling, Sharma found that use of the title violated the HPA, which bars someone from using the term midwife “in association with or as part of another title describing the person’s work.”

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But Sharma ruled the HPA provision limiting the use of the term unreasonably infringed on MaryMoon’s charter right to free expression, finding no risk to public safety from her describing herself as a “midwife.”

MaryMoon was also awarded court costs.