UBC shouldn't cede to superstition

'Bad luck' hospice should be built as planned

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” By that logic, a society that chooses to shun its sick and dying is not worthy of exaltation. I think I can hear Gandhi rolling in his grave.

Residents of a condominium on the University of British Columbia campus are protesting plans to build a 15-bed palliative care unit next to their building. According to resident Janet Fan, “Eighty per cent of the residents in this building are Asian, and 100 per cent of them are very upset.” Fan says that condo-dwellers are worried that the hospice will bring “ghosts” and “bad luck.” “In Chinese culture, we are against having dying people in your backyard,” she told CBC News. “We cannot accept this. It’s against our belief, against our culture. It’s not culturally sensitive.” Residents of the condo have organized a petition and building plans have now been put on hold.

The fact that UBC is considering these claims is nothing short of preposterous. The functioning of any city, province, democratic country, is dependent on an unyielding separation from religious and/or cultural pressure. Simply put, you can’t run a society based on ghost stories. Community resistance to certain new facilities is not new, but usually arise when some sort of tangible threat is posed; a halfway house is proposed, a registered sex offender moves into the area, a rehab centre opens. But this case is unique in that a material threat isn’t readily apparent. In any case, the claim that the plans for the hospice is “not culturally sensitive” should be immediately dismissed.  It holds no more validity than would a claim, for example, by a homeowner saying it is against his “cultural values” to have a homosexual couple move next door. We can’t start looking to religious texts to format property laws.

As well, even though Fan refers to the intended site of the hospice as her “backyard,” it is certainly not. Owned by the university, residents took a risk when purchasing property with nearby vacant space. Perhaps the one tangible danger posed to these condo-dwellers is declining property values if the hospice is indeed built. After all, how is a million-dollar unit to keep its value when a cultural taboo moves into the neighborhood?  Still, I would hope if money was the real issue, which it appears (at least on the surface) it is not, it wouldn’t be shielded by a guise of cultural concern.

It’s also important to consider the immersive value offered to our society by hospices and hospice workers. Many people who have set foot in palliative care units can attest to the concept that they are very much centres for the living, even though by definition, they are where people go to die. They offer havens for families who can no longer care for loved ones, and indeed, places for the sick and dying to go when cultural taboos consider it “bad luck” to keep those near death in the home. UBC is not proposing a cemetery be built next to the condo, but a home for people still living. It will say something profound about our attitudes towards the critically ill if we decide they must be sequestered. Superstition shouldn’t stand in the way of the new hospice at UBC.

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