The Delta Hospice Soceity operates the Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner. (James Smith photo)

Walk organized to protest proposed changes to Delta Hospice Society constitution

The walk is scheduled to take place on Saturday, June 13 at 10:30 a.m. at Paterson Park in Ladner

A group against efforts to change the Delta Hospice Society (DHS) into a faith-based organization is holding a walk this weekend to voice their opposition to the move while also showing their support for hospice staff, volunteers and patients.

Members of the society were advised in a letter dated May 22 of proposed changes to the DHS’s constitution and bylaws that include a “statement of the Christian faith of the society” and amendments to the purpose of the society, including that it “function as a Christian community that furthers biblical principles governed by the Triune God,” “continue the healing ministry of Jesus Christ,” “uphold and defend that all people are created equally in the image of God and God alone is to be the giver and taker of life” and “provide and facilitate pastoral care to patients and their families.”

An extraordinary general meeting of the society is scheduled for Monday, June 15 at 7 p.m. by telephone conference, followed by a vote by mail-in ballot which closes at 4 p.m. on Friday, June 26.

The proposed changes, as well as the hundreds of membership application that were rejected by the society’s membership committee prior to the meeting being called, has drawn sharp criticism from many in the community — including Delta’s mayor, MP and MLAs, who called for a meeting with Health Minister Adrian Dix to discuss the situation — and spurred three former DHS board presidents to file a petition asking the court to stop, or at least postpone, Monday’s extraordinary general meeting.

“As Delta’s elected officials, we are united in voicing our concerns with the board’s recent decision to significantly alter its constitution and bylaws, while at the same time seemingly thwarting the efforts of our citizens to have a say in the direction of the society,” Delta Mayor George Harvie, Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon, Delta South MLA Ian Paton and MP Carla Qualtrough wrote in a June 1 letter to Dix.

READ MORE: Battle brewing over future of Delta Hospice Society

Now, a group committed to seeing the society remain secular is holding an event dubbed the “Walk for Choice at Hospice.”

“The Delta Hospice is close to my heart, and the heart of this community,” group spokesperson Chris Pettypiece said in a press release. “This hospice was built on the incredible generosity and amazing spirit of Deltans over the past two decades. It would be a travesty to see this facility be destroyed at the hands of any special interest group. We are planning this walk to continue to pressure government — we need our elected officials to help us save Delta Hospice.”

Pettypiece is also one of three former DHS presidents petitioning the court to stop Monday’s extraordinary general meeting.

The event is planned for this Saturday (June 13) at 10:30 a.m., with the walk itself starting at 11 a.m., at Paterson Park in Ladner. The walk will be about one kilometre in length and flexible to accommodate everyone regardless of mobility or fitness, though the specific route won’t be announced until Friday, June 12.

According to a press release from the group, Harvie and Paton will be among those attending the event.

Organizers ask attendees wear a mask to help keep others safe, wear weather-appropriate clothing, bring a water bottle and bring a sign and any kind of noise maker they wish to express themselves.

Further, they ask people leave their anger at home, refrain from personal attack messages and keep the language kid-friendly as the event is meant to be family friendly.

The proposed changes to the society’s constitution stem from the current board’s refusal to allow medical assistance in dying (MAiD) at the Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner.

In February, Dix announced the Fraser Health Authority had given the society a year’s notice that it will terminate its contract due to the board’s position on MAiD. The hospice is located on Fraser Health property, rented to the society for $1 a year, and the health authority provides the hospice with $1.5 million in annual funding, which covers 94 per cent of the 10-bed centre’s operating costs.

“We are taking this action reluctantly, and when the role of the Delta Hospice Society concludes, patients in publicly funded hospice care will again be able to fully access their medical rights,” Dix said at the time.

On May 29, Dix reaffirmed Fraser Health’s decision to end its service agreement with the society, saying funding will continue until Feb. 25, 2021 so long as the DHS complies with the existing contract.

DHS board president Angelina Ireland told the Reporter that the move to adopt a Christian mandate is simply a reaffirmation of the core ideas that have served as the basis for the society and the hospice since day one.

“If you look at the world health organization or any palliative care physician in Canada, they will tell you that the definition of palliative care does not include euthanasia. It never has, and as far as we’re concerned, it never should,” Ireland said.

“Palliative care is quite unique in that it came from Christian moral teaching. So we have asked our membership if they would like to return to that as we move forward into the future, having been shut out now completely by government.”

Ireland also stressed that if members do vote to become a faith-based organization, it would not change the care provided to hospice residents and their families.

“Nobody would need to be a Christian to be admitted, it would admit everyone.”

Ireland also took issue with the characterization of the situation regarding membership applications, explaining the society has been inundated with requests and had to “draw the line” for practical, not ideological, reasons.

“Normally there’s about, like, 50 members in a hospice society, [and we had] like maybe 200 members. Big, right? We now have 1,500 members. And at some point you have to say, look, we cannot accept anymore,” Ireland said. “We had to draw the line because, more than that, there’s no place that we can even have a meeting in Delta. We would have to be forced to go to maybe the Bell [Performing Arts Centre] over there and rent it, and that’s like $8,000.

“Just to send out this information to our membership now at 1,500 people, it cost us $5,000 in postage. So we can’t afford to have a meeting if the meeting’s going to cost us $20,000. We have to be realistic. And I know that’s difficult for government [to understand] because government has unrestricted funds, unrestricted tax payer funds, to do whatever they want, but we’re just a small society and we just can’t afford to have any more people, not to mention the administrative nightmare of trying to administer to 1,500 members.”

Ireland further explained that the society is entirely volunteer-based and has no paid staff, meaning its up to the two or three board members who serve on the membership committee to go through the mountain of applications and process them, entirely for free and on their own time.

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