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Parents sue after Catholic hospital in Canada refused to kill their terminally ill daughter
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Parents sue after Catholic hospital in Canada refused to kill their terminally ill daughter

'Nobody else’s religious beliefs should be imposed on me.'

A Canadian couple is now suing a province and two health authorities after a Catholic hospital refused to euthanize their daughter who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Sam O’Neill, an avid runner and devoted vegan, was diagnosed with stage-4 cervical cancer in early 2022. The cancer was so aggressive that it eventually spread to her spine, breaking at least one vertebra. She also suffered from recurrent kidney infections and osteoporosis.

'You’re being told what you’re requesting is sinful.'

A year later, Sam's health continued to deteriorate. She was then admitted to St. Paul's Hospital, a publicly funded Catholic facility in Vancouver, British Columbia, owned by Providence Health Care, a Catholic medical organization. In spring of 2023, Sam requested — and was granted — assisted suicide services called medical assistance in dying, or MAiD.

Though MAiD has been the law of the land in Canada since 2016, the law provides exemptions for faith-based institutions like St. Paul's, which, in keeping with Catholic doctrine, does not kill its patients, even those with terminal illnesses. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is unequivocal about the evil nature of intentional euthanasia, calling it "murder," regardless of its "forms or motives."

Even with that strict prohibition, St. John Hospice, which is also owned by Providence Health, does kill patients in accordance with civil law. St. Paul's agreed to transfer Sam to St. John, which soon afterward did kill Sam. She was just 34 years old.

On Monday, Gaye O'Neill, Sam's mother and the administrator of her estate, filed a lawsuit against British Columbia through its minister of health, Providence Health, and regional public health authority Vancouver Coastal Health, claiming that the defendants had forced her daughter to endure added pain and suffering because St. Paul's refused to kill her upon demand.

"The circumstances surrounding the forced transfer and Ms. O’Neill’s access to MAID caused and exacerbated Ms. O’Neill’s egregious physical and psychological suffering, and denied her a dignified death," it said.

Gaye O'Neill also went into great detail about her final conversation with her daughter, which apparently took place in a bathroom shortly before Sam's transfer to the hospice.

"We were allowed to say a quick goodbye, so I said to her, 'Sam, I’m so sorry this is happening to you.' And she said, 'Well, it is what it is,'" Gaye recalled.

The family exchanged "I love yous" before Sam was given pain killers and sedatives to ease her journey to St. John. Sam's father, Jim O'Neill, accompanied her in the ambulance.

"It was really, really hard," he said. "You watch her writhing and moaning in pain, not conscious and she’s not going to be conscious ever again."

Jim O'Neill described the experience as "horrendous" and "cruel."

Moreover, the O'Neills claim, Sam never chose to go to St. Paul's in the first place. By refusing to perform MAiD, St. Paul's "violated [Sam's] choice of religion," Gaye claimed.

"They can’t go on hurting people."

In addition to Gaye O'Neill, the lawsuit has two other plaintiffs who seem to have animus against a Catholic hospital for abiding by Catholic teaching. One of the plaintiffs is an organization called Dying with Dignity Canada. Its vice chairwoman, Daphne Gilbert, a University of Ottawa law professor, accused faith-based hospitals of attempting to "stigmatize" the practice of assisted suicide and those who request it.

"You’re being told what you’re requesting is sinful," she said.

Dr. Jyothi Jayaraman, a so-called palliative care physician and coplaintiff, also took issue with a hospital following its founding Christian precepts. "[Canadian Charter law] allows me freedom of religion, which also means that nobody else’s religious beliefs should be imposed on me," she insisted. "I think that is what’s happening, that Providence Health’s religious beliefs are imposed on me in such a way that I can no longer provide care in a medically appropriate and ethical way."

In a statement to Global News, Providence Health reaffirmed the organization's commitment to Catholic teaching and to refusing MAiD practices. However, it claims that it works with Vancouver Coastal Health facilities willing to perform them. "If there are issues or concerns with transfers, the two organizations work to improve the transfer processes wherever possible," Providence Health said.

Health Minister Adrian Dix gave a statement as well: "MAID is a legal end-of-life choice. In British Columbia, it’s strictly regulated, but it’s a legal end-of-life choice. And it’s our job to ensure that people have access to MAID in our province."

In an email to Blaze News, Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition noted that "Sam O’Neill was not denied MAiD," and indeed, received MAiD services at an alternate facility. He also suggested the only crime St. Paul's committed was "refusing to kill their patients."

Finally, he slammed the lawsuit as little more than thinly veiled political activism. "Dying with Dignity, Canada’s leading euthanasia lobby group, is committed to forcing every medical institution to provide euthanasia," he told Blaze News. "Dying with Dignity will not accept any dissent from their demand that all medical institutions must provide euthanasia."

"This story is about using the death of Sam in order to force all medical institutions, including religiously affiliated medical institutions, into providing euthanasia."

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Cortney Weil

Cortney Weil

Sr. Editor, News

Cortney Weil is a senior editor for Blaze News.
@cortneyweil →