VANCOUVER — A faith-based nursing home has filed a complaint against a medical-assistance-in-dying doctor, accusing her of “sneaking in and killing someone” at the Orthodox Jewish home against the centre’s policy.
But Dr. Ellen Wiebe, who advocates for assisted suicide through Hemlock Aid and has assisted the legal death of a number of people since Canada’s ban on the practice was struck down in 2016, insisted she did nothing “unprofessional.”
She said she answered the request from Barry Hyman to allow him to die at home, rather than be transferred to another health-care facility.
“I really feel strongly about people’s last wishes,” she said. “If you want to die at home, I really want to provide that if I can.”
She said she also honoured the family’s request for the death “to be kept private, because they didn’t want to deal with other people’s reactions.”
The man’s family declined to comment.
But the Louis Brier Nursing Home in Vancouver is accusing Wiebe of “borderline unethical” behaviour and has officially complained to the College of Physicians and Surgeons after it learned that Wiebe had assisted Hyman’s death after-hours without consulting the home.
“It was hidden,” said CEO David Keselman. “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?
“Imagine the implications for our staff and our residents and their families,” he said. “We have a lot of Holocaust survivors. To have a doctor sneak in and kill someone without telling anyone. They’re going to feel like they’re at risk when you learn someone was sneaking in and killing someone.”
Keselman said the nursing staff had to deal with the “traumatic” news from a Hyman family member that the man they had seen 10 minutes before was dead.
“That was tough on our staff,” said Keselman. “This isn’t an acute-care facility.”
He said the home has a defined policy devised by an ethics committee that includes allowing its residents to have a MAiD assessment done at the home. But residents are transferred to a health-care facility for the procedure.
“It’s a choice we’ve made,” he said, adding it’s based on Jewish Orthodox values, not to deny anyone the right to have medical assistance in dying.
Keselman said Wiebe was made aware of the policy.
“She was well aware of our position,” he said.
Wiebe said she was called to provide medical assistance in dying to three residents, but two “who decided it was too stressful and that they didn’t want to be doing something against the staff” decided against having Wiebe help them die at the home.
But Hyman, “he said he wanted to die at home and that this is the place that he lived,” she said.
Wiebe said she did the assessment of the patient, whom she hadn’t treated previously, and spoke to his doctor before agreeing to attend at the home at 7 p.m. one day. She said it was done at night because she worked during the day. She denies she acted “unprofessionally.”
She said at some Catholic facilities, including St. Paul’s Hospital, outside doctors require visiting privileges to treat patients.
“I would not do it (administer MAiD at those facilities),” she said. “I would consider that unprofessional if I agreed not to do something and then went ahead and did it.”
Because there wasn’t the same requirement for physicians’ visiting privileges at Louis Brier, “I did not do anything unprofessional,” she said.
The college said in an email that complaints are private, but disciplinary actions are made public.
Wiebe said that after she assisted in the death, the care home and Vancouver Coastal Health met with her to have her promise not to carry out MAiD on its premises in future, which she said she wouldn’t agree to.
She said the college will hold an inquiry, saying “they could take my licence away.”
Coastal Health spokeswoman Carrie Stefanson declined to comment in an emailed statement because of privacy issues, but said, “if VCH is making the connection between the patient and the provider or assessor of medical assistance in dying, we expect the provider to abide by VCH policy, which respects the Denominational Health Care Agreement.”
Keselman said Louis Brier will now require physicians to obtain visiting privileges after providing credentials. He said he doesn’t think Wiebe should lose her licence.
“I’m sure she’s a fabulous doctor and helps a lot of people, but there should be a notation or something on her file,” he said.