Family of terminally ill Vancouver woman sues province, hospital operator over ‘assisted suicide’ policy

Gaye O'Neill claims Providence Health violated her 34-year-old daughter Samantha's Charter rights by denying her access to 'assisted suicide' due to the facility's Catholic values.

Family of terminally ill Vancouver woman sues province, hospital operator over ‘assisted suicide’ policy
Photo Credit: Jim O'Neill
Remove Ads

A terminally ill Vancouver woman could not access “assisted suicide,” and now her family is suing the province of British Columbia and the care facility where she resided.

Gaye O'Neill, the mother of 34-year-old Samantha O'Neill, is the lead plaintiff in the case. She claims Providence Health Care Society, the faith-based health authority responsible for her daughter’s care, had violated her Charter rights.

Samantha O'Neill opted for end-of-life care in April 2023 after being diagnosed with Stage 4 cervical cancer, reported CBC News.

She received treatment at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, but could not access the procedure owing to vehement opposition from facility operators.

“They can’t go on hurting people,” Gaye O’Neill told the state broadcaster on Monday. “They violated her choice of religion [by imposing Catholic beliefs on her].”

Samantha O'Neill was “writhing and moaning in pain,” reads a statement of claim filed to the B.C. Supreme Court.

“It hurts us,” said her father Jim. “Fourteen months later, we keep reliving that awful day.”

The province’s MAiD policy requires health authorities to avoid transferring patients, but a facility run by a faith-based organization is exempt.

Samantha requested the procedure in April 2023, but was instead transferred by ambulance to another facility.

O'Neill would not make it to that facility as she died on April 4, 2023 after receiving sedation en route to St. John’s Hospice, another facility run by the Providence Health.

“In the course of her transfer, Ms. O'Neill was first moved to a commode,” reads the claim. “She was then heavily sedated for the ambulance transfer.”

“The last time her parents saw her conscious and to say their final goodbyes was while Ms. O'Neill sat on the commode.” 

Daphne Gilbert, a University of Ottawa law professor who assisted with the legal challenge, said there are similar faith-based organizations across Canada, so the judgment in B.C. could reverberate across the country.

“We argue this is the state imposing religious values on people who don't share those convictions,” Gilbert said. “And those Charter arguments would be the same in any province that allows faith-based hospitals to dictate care.”

The lawsuit contends Samantha’s family were denied the chance to say goodbye, and that she was “denied a dignified death.”

It suggests her constitutional rights had been violated.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Providence Health said in a statement it is reviewing the court filing to determine next steps. 

Sam chose to proceed the only way she could,” Gilbert said. “Her final hours were spent preparing for a transfer to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar staff.”

“She received MAiD without ever regaining consciousness.”

Providence Health said while MAiD is not available at its facilities, it works with Vancouver Coastal Health to ensure patient requests for the procedure are addressed.

B.C. organizations that receive more than half their funding from the province must permit assisted suicide in settings where end-of-life services are normally offered.

But the O’Neills contend that doesn’t solve the problem of moving an ailing patient to a different facility.

Federal legislation does not force any person or health-care provider to carry out medically assisted death since health providers have the right to conscientious objection.

Since 2016, 131 patients have been transferred from Providence Health Care to access “assisted suicide.”

From January through October 2022, 7.7% of MAID deaths in Vancouver Coastal Health involved transfers. 

Remove Ads
Remove Ads

Don't Get Censored

Big Tech is censoring us. Sign up so we can always stay in touch.

Remove Ads