Chantelle delivered her daughter in Covenant Health Hospital, a religious healthcare facility. In this open letter she responds to an incident in 2017 when 66-year-old ALS patient Doreen Nowicki was assessed for medical assistance in dying (MAID) on an Edmonton sidewalk after Covenant Health abruptly rescinded permission to have it in the facility. Though Covenant Health now allows assessments for assisted death onsite, they continue to ban the procedure’s provision on their grounds. Chantelle, a registered nurse in Alberta, shares her views on religious beliefs, publicly funded healthcare, and access to medical services.
Dear Covenant Health,
I saw your statement in regards to the Nowicki family. In your apology you asked for patients, residents, families, and staff members to reach out and share their own experiences. I feel that this incident calls for a time of reflection and, if you are ready to listen, I would like to share my experiences as a patient, a woman, a Canadian citizen, and a Registered Nurse in Alberta.
As a patient.
I chose a Covenant Health facility because it was the closest hospital to my house. That’s how we should pick a hospital, right? I delivered my baby girl as a crucified Jesus stared down from his front row seat to my wide open legs. I didn’t remember inviting him. Compared to the birth of my son at an Alberta Health Services facility, this all seemed so presumptuous. Crosses in every room, prayers over the intercom — it was all a reminder that I was clearly an outsider.
This was my personal experience as a patient in a Covenant Health Hospital. I must also mention that my experience provided a safe delivery, appropriate medical interventions, and a clean and quiet environment to recover in. I left the hospital with a beautiful baby girl and no bill. I am very thankful for all of those things.
As a woman.
In my limited personal experience with Covenant Health, I was lucky that the closest hospital to my house was able to meet my medical needs. Unfortunately, for many rural and Indigenous women across this province, Covenant Health emergency rooms often serve as the only point of access to emergency contraception. Denying access to federally approved treatments such as the morning after pill and pregnancy termination for medically isolated Albertans is a violation of their right to access these treatments.
Providing emergency contraception to those seeking it in an emergency department is your job. People in rural centers do not choose to go to your facilities; it is a forced geographic decision. Failing to provide services that women need based on religious objections is not an option in the year 2020. It is my right as a woman to have access to these treatments. You are a publicly funded hospital and evaluating what treatments are morally pleasing enough to administer is not a decision to be made by Covenant Health.
As a citizen of Canada.
When I read stories such as that of the Nowicki family, I am outraged. The Supreme Court of Canada granted assisted death as a right to Canadian citizens in 2016. The solutions that you have provided in an attempt to serve this population are unacceptable. Though you now allow assessments for medically assisted deaths to be conducted onsite, medically assisted deaths being banned from your facility is not a solution. Forced transferring of a palliative patient to another facility is not a solution. Your policies regarding end-of-life care are not patient-informed and only exist to protect the values of the Catholic Church. You are failing palliative patients in your care every single day.
Providing assisted death to those who qualify for it during end of life care is your job. Citizens of Edmonton do not choose what palliative care unit we end up on. We get sick and we are treated where there is space. It is not the place of a publicly funded hospital to evaluate whether government approved treatments meet your moral standards. As an organization who operates the vast majority of palliative care and end-of-life beds in Edmonton, your failure to provide all approved treatments in regards to end-of-life care should not be tolerated by our government.
As a Registered Nurse in Alberta.
I chose this profession because I care. I care about the outcomes of my individual patients. I care about how Albertans access health care. I care about reducing barriers to appropriate treatments and I care about improving the health of our province. Most importantly, I care about providing treatment to those in need regardless of gender, age, health status, lifestyle, sexual orientation, beliefs, and health practices.
As a health care organization, you should care too. Why don’t you care about the pain your policies have caused to those trying to exercise their right to assisted death across Alberta? Why don’t you care that by limiting access to emergency contraception you are also limiting a woman’s right to make an informed decision? You should care about putting the medical needs of Albertans first.
As an organization, Covenant Health has demonstrated that adhering to Catholic-informed policies is more important than providing adequate services to the people that they serve. Covenant Health should not be allowed to operate any emergency department, palliative care unit, hospice, or end-of-life care center in Canada. Your policies regarding birth control, pregnancy termination, and end-of-life care are not in alignment with the services that are required by Canadians who access these departments. By allowing these policies to shape the practice in your facilities you are failing to provide Albertans with appropriate access to care.
I am a Registered Nurse because I am a fighter. Fighting to protect vulnerable populations is critical work and a part of my professional obligation. Covenant Health, who are you professionally obligated to? Are you answering to the Catholic Church or to the people who are putting their health and tax dollars in your hands?
A patient, a woman, a Canadian citizen, and a Registered Nurse in Alberta.
To readers: Please share this message if you believe in it, and continue to have open dialogue about how we can improve access to care for all Albertans, write your MLA or anyone who will listen, and speak with your vote.