Medically-assisted suicide sparks scandal at Canadian Jewish elderly home

An act of mercy and compassion or a covert and unethical procedure?

January 7, 2018 16:17
3 minute read.
intravenous (IV) therapy

A patient in a hospital receives intravenous (IV) therapy (illustrative). (photo credit: INGIMAGE)


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A Jewish elder-care home in British Columbia, Canada, has accused Dr. Ellen Wiebe, who specializes in medically-assisted suicides, of "sneaking in and killing someone," according to a report in the Times Colonist on Sunday.

Vancouver's Louis Brier Nursing Home discovered that Wiebe, who runs Hemlock Aid to provide medical assistance in dying, had aided in the voluntary death of one of their patients without consulting the home. The home accused Wiebe of “borderline unethical” behavior in assisting in the death of Barry Hyman, and has filed a complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons about her conduct.

But, according to the Times Colonist, Wiebe claims that she did nothing "unprofessional."

Wiebe claimed that Hyman requested her help. "He said he wanted to die at home and that this is the place that he lived,” she remarked. She stated that she evaluated the patient and spoke with his physician before completing the procedure at 7 p.m. on the allotted day, and resisted the characterization that she did anything sneaky, explaining that it was carried out at night because she does other work during the day.

Wiebe further stated that some facilities, such as Catholic medical centers, ask that physicians do not aid in medically assisted dying procedures on their premises. While she complies with such policies, since Louis Brier does not explicitly have such a requirement, she stated she was not violating any regulations by serving her client on their property.

Representatives of the nursing home have stated the contrary.

CEO David Keselman told the Times Colonist, “There’s no documentation. She came in and I don’t know who you are. You can tell me you’re a physician, you could tell me you’re an astronaut, how do I know?"

He added that many of the home's residents are Holocaust survivors, and "to have a doctor sneak in and kill someone without telling anyone.They’re going to feel like they’re at risk...”

And, according to a report in The Globe and Mail, although medically assisted suicide became legal in Canada in 2016, Louis Brier is a "publicly funded Jewish nursing home in Vancouver whose board forbade assisted deaths on site, saying the newly legal practice violated the values and traditions of the Jewish faith."

Mark Rozenberg, the chair of the ethics committee of Louis Brier's board, told The Globe and Mail that the home's policies against assisted dying were clear. "Anyone who comes here knows what our policy is," he said. "And if they don't like the policy, they should go somewhere else."

The Globe and Mail characterized Hyman's case as an instance in which Hyman's family had to choose between transferring Barry to an unfamiliar facility to die, or to "sneak" in Wiebe to help.

During daytime hours, Wiebe runs the Willow Women's clinic, which provides a range of services to women including birth control distribution and abortion services. The Globe and Mail stated that Wiebe at times accepts patients from Catholic and other facilities who are not allowed to choose to die on site, meaning, "Catholic health-care facilities have transferred patients to an abortion clinic to die."

Still, Hyman's daughter Lola does not seem to regret the family's decision, recalling, "I was not the best daughter. We just didn't communicate well. We loved each other and we knew each other and we were there for each other. But this was the one thing I was going to make sure that we did, that we followed through on. He was going to go the way that he wanted to go."

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