Death midwife can keep title, court rules

B.C.’s Health Profession Act section violates freedom of expression: judge

B.C. woman Pashta MaryMoon is a self-described death midwife, a title she can now use over the objections of the College of Midwives of British Columbia.

The college had sought a Supreme Court of B.C. injunction to have MaryMoon stop using the term “midwife.”

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What happened, however, was that the judge found MaryMoon’s use of the title violates B.C.’s Health Professions Act. And that, she said, means the act violates the constitutional charter right to freedom of expression.

So, Justice Neena Sharma declared part of the legislation unconstitutional.

MaryMoon argued she is not violating the legislation governing the college because her work has nothing to do with pregnant women or delivering babies.

Also, she argued, a prohibition on her use of the term “midwife” would violate her right to freedom of expression.

The court heard she has been providing what she calls “deathcare services” for more than 40 years, that “death midwife” is “the only title” that she uses to identify her vocation as a “deathcare provider.”

The Oct. 1 ruling said she has a Carleton University degree in world religions, research focused on modern approaches to death and taboos around it.

She received formal training as a death midwife in the USA in 2013, worked as a lay minister with Ottawa’s Unity Church and, during the 1980s, helped care for people suffering from HIV/AIDS. 

In 2004, she co-founded Pagan Pastoral Outreach, which included on its website death midwifery as a form of pastoral care.

She is also a founder and the executive director of the Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternatives (CINDEA), which, in 2016, received a letter from the college asking her to stop using the term it claimed is registered to it.

MaryMoon pointed to a CINDEA website disclaimer saying, “Death midwives are not conventional midwives (who deal with birthing) or health professionals, nor are they registered with any of the Colleges of Midwives in Canada.”

The college argued the term ‘midwife’ is part of a reserved title system and its use implies registration with a professional association.

The college argued in court that people might believe a ‘death midwife’ was a college member or a health professional.

Sharma disagreed, saying what MaryMoon does is understood and clear.

“Among other things, the disclaimers are frequent on the website and make that point clearly. Moreover, the website is so clearly devoted to topics related to death,” Sharma said.

Sharma also agreed on MaryMoon’s right to describe herself as she does.

“In my view, when the respondent refers to herself as a “death midwife” there can be no doubt that she is conveying meaning,” Sharma.

And, she explained, that means it is a freedom of expression issue.

B.C.’s Ministry of Attorney General intervened in the case, submitting the legislation does not infringe freedom of expression but, if it does, that infringement is reasonable according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. .

jhainsworth@glaciermedia.ca

@jhainswo

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