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The Globe and Mail

Vancouver hospice put on hold over 'cultural sensitivity'

Plans for a hospice on the University of British Columbia campus have been put on hold after some neighbourhood residents said the proposed facility offended their cultural sensitivities around death and dying.

"It's not going forward to the board at the February meeting [of the UBC board of governors]" UBC campus and community planning director Joe Stott said on Thursday. "There are a variety of claims against the project and we want to systematically go through them."

Plans for the hospice - a joint venture between the Order of St. John, UBC's Faculty of Medicine and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority - call for a two-level, 15-bed hospice that would add end-of-life care to the emerging community mix on the UBC campus and fill a gap in hospice services on the city's west side.

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But to Janet Fan and many of her neighbours, the hospice would put death at their doorstep - a possibility she said would flout longstanding Asian cultural taboos around death and dying.

"It is all about cultural sensitivity," said Ms. Fan, a Chinese-born immigrant who lives in a high-rise near the proposed hospice site. "We came here as new immigrants with our own belief system. And in our beliefs, it is impossible for us to have dying people in our backyard."

Ms. Fan and dozens of other residents in the Marine Drive tower circulated a petition against the hospice, which was discussed at an open house on Monday, and went public with their complaints this week.

The comments were controversial, with critics charging that Ms. Fan and others speaking out against the hospice were more concerned about their property values than cultural traditions.

Ms. Fan vigorously denied that was the case, saying she and neighbours had sought out the area for its schools and amenities and were not interested in property speculation.

Ms. Fan said about 80 per cent of the residents of her building are of Asian descent and have strong concerns about the hospice.

It is not uncommon to encounter opposition when scouting sites for a new hospice, said Gay Klietzke, executive director of the Vancouver Hospice Society.

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Typically, public concerns focus on noise and traffic and lessen once people learn more about what is involved in hospices, especially the small, community-oriented facilities envisioned by the Vancouver Hospice Society, she said.

"People don't necessarily understand what a hospice is," Ms. Klietzke said. "They think it's sirens blaring and ambulances coming at all hours of the day and night, and it's not like that at all."

Tung Chan, the former head of Success, a Vancouver group that works with Chinese immigrants, said the cultural concerns were "overstated."

"No doubt that is her belief, and no doubt she represents a portion of the Chinese-Canadian community," Mr. Chan said. "But bear in mind that there are 600,000 Chinese-Canadians in the Lower Mainland ... so for people to say that there is a strong aversion to death, I would say that is overstated."

Editor's Note: The headline on the original newspaper version of this article and on an earlier online version incorrectly described the status of the project. This online version has been corrected.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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