British Columbia: Tell Premier Clark to remove unfair barriers to access for assisted dying

Assisted dying is legal in Canada, but access in B.C. remains uneven at best. One of the most harmful barriers to access is the spattering of publicly funded hospitals, hospices and long-term care homes that forbid dying and critically ill residents from accessing assisted dying on-site. These institutions have warned that residents who want the option of assisted death will have to go elsewhere to get it. Some institutions refuse to allow their doctors to even provide assessments for assisted death.

Simply put, these outdated, unjust policies are harming dying British Columbians in their time of greatest vulnerability and need. Just recently, Jan Lackie approached the National Post to speak out on the horrors her 84-year-old father endured after he requested medical assistance in dying in a Catholic hospital in Vancouver. Near the end of his life, Ian Shearer found himself in St. Paul’s Hospital afflicted with kidney failure, heart disease and spinal stenosis, an excruciating condition that causes the narrowing of the spine, putting pressure on nerves in one’s back and sometimes the spinal cord itself. His pain was so severe that “just to touch his legs, he would scream,” his daughter said.

Vancouver's Ian Shearer

Ian Shearer had to endure a gruelling patient transfer out of Vancouver's St. Paul's Hospital in order to access physician-assisted dying. (Jan Lackie)

Aware of his right to an assisted death, Ian told his doctor that he wanted to begin the process of applying for medical assistance in dying. But St. Paul’s refused to allow Ian to die in its care. The transfer to another hospital would have been difficult for anyone at the end of life, but for Ian, it was torturous. "My Dad yelled out in agony as they lifted him from his bed to the stretcher,” Jan said. “He cried out going over every single bump in the ambulance. Then, once again adding to his suffering, they had to lift him from the stretcher to his new bed in another hospital.”

It didn’t have to be like this. "Dad’s last day with us, his last hours of life, could have been so peaceful and loving for him and for those of us by his side,” Jan said. "Now, I live with this haunting memory. What Dad had to go through to exercise his legal right to die is something no one should ever have to experience."

Jan is right. Hospitals, hospices and long-term care homes that receive public funds have no business requiring dying British Columbians to travel — sometimes over long distances — in order to access their right to a peaceful death. Allowing facilities to forbid assisted death on their premises simply puts too great a burden on the individual patient and represents a violation of their duty as public healthcare providers to ensure compassionate, non-judgmental care to British Columbians at end of life.

What you can do

Help Jan make a difference for British Columbians who, like her father, want the choice of a medically assisted death. Use our Email-a-Rep tool to tell Premier Christy Clark and Health Minister Terry Lake to ensure that all publicly funded hospitals, hospices and long-term care facilities that care for dying British Columbians allow residents to exercise their right to a peaceful death on site — without unreasonable delays or gruelling transfers.

Here's how it works:

  • Enter your postal code so the recipients know where you hail from.
  • Then, enter your name and email address. (Phone number is optional.)
  • You can use the default text, or you can customize it to make your message even more powerful.

When you're done, click "Send my email." Your message will be sent to the premier and the health minister. Providence Health Care, the faith-based health network that runs St. Paul’s and several other tax-funded hospitals or care facilities in the Lower Mainland, will be copied on the message.

Once you’re done, send the link to your friends and family, and post it to social media. Together, we can put a stop to horror stories like the one Jan’s father experienced. Act today!