Nova Scotia Catholic hospital must now offer assisted suicide after policy change

Nova Scotia Catholic hospital must now offer assisted suicide after policy change

A Catholic hospital in Nova Scotia must now offer patients access to medically assisted dying on site — a change advocates say should be noted by other provinces with faith-based hospitals.

St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., which was formerly run by the Sisters of St. Martha, had been exempt from Canada’s medical assistance in dying legislation under a 1996 agreement signed with the Catholic order when the province took over control of the facility.

The agreement ensured the hospital’s Catholic identity and values would be preserved and in accordance with Catholic principles expressly forbid “assisting suicide.”

However, a policy change was quietly instituted by the Nova Scotia Health Authority last month that requires St. Martha’s to now offer assisted dying.

“Assessments and the provision of (medical assistance in dying) will be available in a section of the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital complex, at the Antigonish Health and Wellness Centre,” Tim Guest, the health authority’s vice-president of health services, said in an emailed statement.

“This approach respects the 1996 Mission Assurance Agreement with the Sisters of St. Martha that lays out the philosophy, mission and values of St. Martha’s in accordance with its faith-based identity, while also meeting the legislated obligation to ensure that (medical assistance in dying) is available in the Antigonish area for those who request and meet the criteria to access that service.”

Guest provided no other details explaining the rationale for the change, saying only that the relationship and the agreement with the Sisters of St. Martha is based on “mutual respect and understanding.” The Sisters of St. Martha did not respond to a request for comment.

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