UBC right to move forward with campus hospice

Nearby condo dwellers fear “ghosts”

A plan to build a hospice on the University of British Columbia campus is slated for approval in June, despite opposition from neighbouring condo-dwellers, who are worried about “bad luck” and “ghosts.”

They have protested the prospective 15-bed palliative since January because of culturally-specific fears. “Eighty per cent of the residents in this building are Asian, and 100 per cent of them are very upset,” said condo spokeswoman Janet Fan, at the time. “In Chinese culture, we are against having dying people in your backyard.”

While the project was initially delayed, a May 25 staff report recommends facility approval, to be finalized sometime next month.

I hope we will see construction sometime thereafter. This particular spin on ‘residents vs. new building’ can’t help but elicit hyperbole. You can dress is up with culturally sensitive language and subtle empathetic nods, but the issue will still be that a group of million-dollar condo owners don’t want to dying people soiling their 10th floor panoramic views. Physically or spiritually, it’s all the same.

But there are several reasons why UBC should not yield to demands to move the hospice. For one, the hospice does not pose any real, tangible threat to its neighbours. Data commissioned by UBC showed that property values of homes in nearby communities have increased since hospices have opened in the area. And unlike similar situations of community resistance—say, when a halfway house is proposed in a neighbourhood—the threat of physical danger is not present in this case. Bad luck can’t slash your tires.

But what about emotional turmoil? Surely some devout residents will experience anxiety and stress living next to a place where people are dying. Indeed, that’s unfortunate. But it’s no reason to change course. Institutions such as universities—as well as cities, provinces, and democratic countries as a whole—cannot allow religious belief to dictate policy. If someone legally purchases land and, for example, wants to open a LGBT community centre on that land, should she be prohibited based on its proximity to a church opposed to the LGBT lifestyle? Can a person prevent an interracial couple from moving in next door because he feels uneasy? Of course not. It would be unacceptable to force change in those cases, so it’s unacceptable to force change here.

The phrase ‘buyer beware’ is cliché for a reason. We too often forget that we can’t control who moves in next door. UBC has been shopping for a place for this hospice for years and it has done it’s best to balance different stakeholder’s concerns. I hope it gets built without anymore delays.

Photo courtesy of fauxto_digit on Flickr.

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