Harmful Religious Exemption in Health Care

Harmful Religious Exemption in Health Care

It is deeply disturbing to learn the circumstances around the death of Samantha O’Neill, a 34-year-old Vancouver woman suffering from terminal cervical cancer.

Samantha was living her final days in April 2023, dealing with severe pain, in a hospital bed at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. Looking at her options, she was determined to choose the manner and timing of her inevitable death. She wanted her family and her loved ones by her side.

Samantha requested Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). But Samantha was in St. Paul’s, a Catholic hospital with a ban on providing Medical Assistance in Dying for religious reasons.

St. Paul’s Hospital staff heavily sedated Samantha and transferred her to another health care facility. She never regained consciousness and died. Her desire to spend her last moments awake and with her loved ones died with her.

Samantha’s parents have launched a lawsuit against the province and health care officials calling the actions of St. Paul’s Hospital “cruel” treatment.

“The circumstances surrounding the forced transfer and Ms. O’Neill’s access to MAiD caused and exacerbated her egregious physical and psychological suffering and denied her a dignified death,” according to the claim submitted in B.C. Supreme Court.

Medically assisted dying has been legal in Canada since 2016. Why is a publicly-funded hospital, part of Canada’s valued health care system, allowed to harm a dying young woman and her grieving family based on some indefensible religious belief?

In the Okanagan, we are fortunate to have secular hospitals that provide the full range of health services without religious constraints. St. Paul’s Hospital is part of a legacy of publicly-funded religion-affiliated institutions in many parts of Canada. Unfortunately, and tragically in the case of Samantha O’Neill, our governments allow these institutions to deny specific services based on religious tenets.

Let’s protect the rights and dignity of individuals in healthcare decisions. We can do that by working together to ensure that publicly-funded institutions provide public services unencumbered by religious constraints.

Janice Selbie, Tania Kuehn, Darrel Lewis, Jan Goss, Saturday Sazaran

Kelowna Athesits, Skeptics and Humanists Association Board


We are the Kelowna Atheists Skeptics and Humanists Association (KASHA), an Okanagan Valley

community group focused on promoting secular, scientific and humanist values.