What’s After Refusal-To-Die?: Something Sinister Is Happening In Saskatchewan

It’s in-house jargon, but according to a practitioner I know the phrase refusal to die is now being increasingly used by Saskatchewan medical staff to refer to a person who is, by their own defined medical standards, lingering beyond what medical staff deems to be an appropriate length of time for their demise.

Anyone who has ever formally worked with hospital patients in any caring capacity knows that there are already ways in which death can be hastened along when it comes to late-stage disease.  Today in Canada any terminally ill patient can by law request an expedited fast-track to death through a consultation with their doctor through doctor-assisted suicide.  Are physicians now also streamlining death through this new option?

It’s not my point in this post to argue with Canadian law.  But what is at stake is the Canadian government taking control of a natural process to the point where patients do not know their options because budget-conscious lawmakers have finally colluded with doctors enough so that the public – who are not being informed of their options at this point in their lives – are being denied the care that is their right?  Here’s what’s happening.

At present any patient admitted to hospital in Saskatchewan fills out a form on which is included an indication of the patient’s willingness to receive visits from clergy.  This is done to supposedly prevent unwelcome visits by uncaring ideologues.  [It’s interesting that after my own intensive, supervised clinical training, a year’s employment in a hospital that specialized in trauma, and twenty-eight years of ordained ministry that I have yet to meet a patient who has been subject to such abuse.]

But now there is a rub.

In the past chaplains who were employed by hospitals – and hence the province itself – would make rounds, introducing themselves and offering to be a resource for patient’s spiritual lives, usually as a go-between.  But now the Saskatchewan government has removed these services by ceasing to fund chaplains.  In other words, there is no objective advocacy for patients in Saskatchewan hospitals, only in-house, government-directed programming.

A colleague tells the story of a terminally ill man they met who was in hospital in Saskatchewan and who because distraught when his doctor informed him that his death could be hastened along by being transferred to a hospital where doctors would assist him in killing himself.  Soon afterward a knowledgeable family member came to see him and asked the patient if he had been informed that the very hospital in which he lay had a palliative care unit?  The man’s response was, What is palliative care? (!!!!!)  Subsequently he requested a visit from a chaplain (now denominationally employed), who explained what this service was.  The man chose this option and was extremely pleased, cared for by hospital staff and family alike, which gave him the opportunity to give and receive compassion as a part of his own end of his life process.

There is definitely something insidious happening in the Saskatchewan medical system.  I am aware of several patients who were not given impartial explanations to the full breadth of end of life options.  Provincial chaplaincy has been removed.  Some doctors are not explaining palliative care to their patients, which is not surprising since all medical staff are nothing more than provincial employees, inherently tethered and biased, in addition to being more statically inclined to being psychopathic…overly rational and not holistically oriented…less compassionate…highly trained technicians…less caring.

Compassion means putting your own life on hold in response to being viscerally moved by the plight of another, and then in meeting this other’s needs on their terms.  That’s the role of chaplains.  And now they are gone.

There may be people who wish to have a doctor’s assistance in killing themselves.  That is their prerogative under law.  But there is another way to enter into the end of life…a human way of giving and receiving compassionate care, which matures both those who receive and those who give it in ways that doctor assisted suicide negates.

By removing those who can explain this to a patient without bias the Saskatchewan government commits ongoing abuse.  In light of the misguided distain that most Canadians now hold regarding religion itself this is not surprising.  But this is extremely dehumanizing, reducing people to corporate best-management practises, and cannot be called caring by any stretch of the term, let alone compassionate.  But then again, impersonal egotism, narcissism, and community destruction are hallmarks of the age, so it is not surprising.  But people should know about it.  And the church should be ashamed of itself for not publicly standing up to the state and calling this for what it is.

And of course with this development I believe that we should all have grave concerns that given the direction that this disinformation is going, when will it happen that the growing acceptance of a patient’s refusal-to-die becomes applied to any illness…to any disease…to any injury that is simply more inconvenient or more costly than what the government wants to accept based on the decisions of governmentally trained strategists and pundits?  In spite of any denial of this by anyone in government it’s just too much of a coincidence.

It is truly ironic that the province that inspired nationalized health care is now lining up a constellation that dehumanizes people at the end of their lives.


[P.S. – It’s been reported to me that the initial doctor-assisted suicides in Saskatchewan took place in a specific, separate location, but after a week of that, they became commonplace enough that they are now carried out right on the wards themselves.  Time truly does make ancient good uncouth.  We all know what’s coming next.  You need to take charge of your life, which is hard enough in a country where the gatekeepers of health are now truly un-caring.]