06/20/2017 05:01 EDT | Updated 06/23/2017 05:07 EDT

Manitoba backs faith-based hospitals on issue of doctor-assisted death

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government says it will not force faith-based hospitals to provide medical assistance in dying.

The comment comes in response to a controversy over the reversal of a decision by the St. Boniface Hospital's board of directors on the issue.

As a faith-based institution, St. Boniface doesn't as a rule provide medical assistance in dying, but the board voted in late May to amend that policy to allow it to happen on site under "rare circumstances."

The Catholic Health Corporation of Manitoba then ordered a review of the decision after adding 10 new directors to the board, and the amendment was overturned.

That means the hospital will provide assessments for patients seeking doctor-assisted deaths but will transfer patients to a different facility to go through with the procedure.

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said Monday the government respects the decisions of medical professionals and health care facilities to not provide medical assistance in dying.

"Those facilities that do not perform MAID are required to have protocols and procedures in place to transfer patients, in a manner that is safe and dignified, to an alternate facility," said Goertzen.

"It’s important to note that not all services are available in all hospitals in Manitoba. For example, some facilities do not do surgeries or provide certain tests. However, as a result of the Supreme Court of Canada decision, every jurisdiction in Canada is required to make accommodations to make sure the public has access to MAID."

Goertzen said the provincial medical assistance in dying clinical team provides access to those services to any person who meets the requirements.

In Ontario, that issue of doctors referring patients seeking assisted death or abortions to another physician or health institution is being challenged in court.

A group of five doctors and three professional organizations argues the policy contravenes their right to freedom of religion and conscience under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In Montreal, meanwhile, two incurably ill people are taking legal action to challenge the constitutionality of the Canadian and Quebec laws on medical aid in dying, saying the eligibility guidelines are too restrictive.

Both suffer from degenerative diseases but are not eligible for medical aid in dying because their deaths are not reasonably foreseeable and they are not at the end of their lives.

(CTV Winnipeg, The Canadian Press)