Cheryl Rostek’s terminal brain cancer diagnosis means every moment she spends with her husband and three children is focused on living well.
As she addressed the board of Fraser Health at a public meeting held Wednesday in Chilliwack, her emphasis on “living” was intentional in an emotional entreaty to ban Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) from hospices.
“It comforts me greatly to know that my community has comprehensive palliative services,” Rostek told board chair Jim Sinclair, Fraser Health CEO Michael Marchbank and the rest of the board. “However, it alarms me that Fraser Health is on a path towards mandating that hospices provide MAiD. I strongly petition you to segregate MAiD from palliative and hospice services.”
More than 100 people packed into the small conference room at the Hampton Inn Wednesday morning, most of whom were there to hear the conversation about MAiD. This was made evident when virtually everyone in the room gave a standing ovation after Rostek read her words at the podium.
“To continue providing myself, my husband and my three young children with vital and life-bolstering care I sincerely urge Fraser Health to safeguard a palliative environment of vulnerability, openness and wholehearted support by excluding hospice programs and services from the provision of MAiD,” she said.
The controversial issue at stake is over the former BC Liberal government’s MAiD law and its implementation by the current government, and Fraser Health’s mandate that MAiD be provided at all Fraser Health facilities.
Those opposed to allowing MAiD in hospices run the gamut from those strongly opposed to euthanasia on religious grounds to those who think there should be designated facilities for assisted suicide.
“I think it’s fair to say with out contradiction that this is a controversial issue,” Fraser Health board chair Jim Sinclair said after Rostek spoke.
He added, however, that the courts have mandated that MAiD is a fundamental legal right, so Fraser Health decided that a patient’s final place of rest should be where assisted suicide be allowed to take place, adding that it is wrong to move people out of hospice for the procedure.
“Our decision is that when people go to hospice they need to have the right to exercise their rights under the law,” Sinclair said, in part. “Hospices are people’s home, their last home, where they make some of the most important decisions.”
Chilliwack-Kent MLA Laurie Throness has spoken strongly against allowing MAiD in hospice.
“My concern is that people will fear that their safety is in jeopardy and they will avoid palliative care,” Throness said a month ago. At Wednesday’s meeting Throness was not present but his constituency assistant read a statement from the MLA again expressing his opposition.
“Societal pressure to accept MAiD is increasing rapidly and it threatens to permeate palliative care,” his statement said.
Sinclair pointed out there is some uncertainly exactly how the MAiD policy will roll out as there are hospices run by Fraser Health, ones contracted by the health authority, and ones run by religious denominations. Sinclair said religious hospices will not be ordered to permit MAiD, adding that no employee of Fraser Health will be required to participate.
Chilliwack Hospice Society executive director Sue Attrill said the society does not own or run the Cascade Hospice. That is done by a private, for-profit company, so the board overseeing the hospice has little say on Fraser Health policy.
“The mandate for MAID to be provided in hospices came from Fraser Health in December 2017,” Attrill said in an emailed statement from the society. “Chilliwack Hospice Society does not provide MAID. As a society we do not operate the hospice beds in Chilliwack. We do not provide services that hasten death or prolong life or offer medical advice or counseling. At Chilliwack Hospice Society, we provide emotional support to individuals and families during the dying and grieving process.”
Speaking out at the end of the meeting Wednesday, and underlying the religious underpinnings of much of the opposition to MAiD, was 85-year-old retired doctor Madeline McPherson who pointed to the Christian bioethics approach to medicine. She also quoted the Bible, and expressed her religious opposition to not only euthanasia but abortion.
“We have to remember when we are accepting a practice that perhaps contradict God’s plan, we are actually entering a stage where the future of our nation will be ending in a foreboding way,” she said to much applause.
But it was Rostek’s poignant words that drew the strongest reaction from the large crowd as she considered her own vulnerability, living as she has already past the average survival for individuals with her particular brain cancer.
“I plan to live until I succumb to my disease,” she said. “This is an entirely different mindset than choosing to die prematurely. These two mindsets cannot co-exist, certainly not housed under the same roof.”