April 15-21 is National Volunteer Week and we’d like to thank and recognize all the wonderful volunteers who take time out of their daily lives to contribute to the hospital to help us provide better service and care to our patients.
In honour of Volunteer Week, we’d like to showcase one of our volunteers, Noel MacDonald, who has volunteered at BC Women’s for nearly a decade.
Noel was a full time volunteer outreach worker in the Downtown Eastside for almost a decade before he started volunteering at BC Women’s, and his involvement in the community also included portrait photography. On one occasion, one of the families Noel was working with at the shelter asked if he would take baby photos for them at BC Women’s Fir Square Complex Care unit, where the family was having their baby.
“I immediately fell in love with the moms and the Fir Square team,” says Noel. “That was eight years and 500 babies ago.”
Noel shoots maternity portraits throughout the course of a mom’s pregnancy, and he would also follow up with portraits of the mom, baby and extended families. Occasionally, he would follow Fir families into the community to do more portraits as the family grows. Three years ago, a social worker at BC Women’s asked Noel if he would take photos for a family that was experiencing a loss. This began his volunteer work as a demise photographer.
The photos that Noel takes hold significance to our patients and their families. For the moms on Fir whom are working through substance and/or alcohol use, the photos bring them pride and joy of becoming a new mother giving them validation.
“They deserve to be acknowledged and respected for the incredibly difficult task of facing their disease and getting treated at Fir,” says Noel. “The women also need to be recognized as moms and their love for their baby needs to be seen.”
With demise photography, families come to cherish the final moments that are captured of their loss and the space these photos provide gives an outlet for families to focus their grief as part of their healing.
The intimate nature of these photo shoots develops a unique connection between Noel and the families. “I find myself drawn to working in the rewarding, challenging and vital space of supporting families that find themselves in an unbelievable situation,” says Noel.
“I have somehow been able to work around death and dying in a compassionate, caring and productive way. Part of what keeps me working is the amazing relationship I have developed with the nurses, doctors, social workers, respiratory therapists and chaplains supporting families (and each other) in this important work.”
The motivation that keeps Noel volunteering besides the relationships he’s developed is that the saying is true: doing good work makes you feel good.
This article was written by Provincial Health Services Authority Communications.
- Fir Square
Today is International Women’s Day, and as I consider the seismic shifts that have occurred of late in the realms of business, the arts, and politics I am buoyed by the belief that women’s voices are finally being heard, inequity is being called out, and that change is coming. Once untouchable icons are falling, industries are being reshaped, and a new era has begun – except in my universe: the health sector.
I’ve experienced first-hand, the feelings of not being believed by a physician, of feeling disrespected and being infantilized. In each instance, I found myself deliberating; is it just me? However, amidst this emerging conversation that #metoo and #timesup have inspired, a fascinating separate dialogue is gaining prominence as more and more women share their stories of discrimination, inequitable treatment, and frustration at not being able to receive timely, appropriate and respectful access to health care. What had begun as self-wondering organically spilled over into conversations with my friends and colleagues as media worldwide gradually started to report on stories similar to my own experiences – and judging by the overwhelming response, these issues resonate on a scale that was once hard for me to believe.
Whether it’s the patient whose unimaginably miserable hyperemesis gravidarum symptoms are diminished as general morning sickness. Or the one-in-ten women suffering from painful endometriosis made to endure wait times ranging from 7-10 years to receive a diagnosis. Or the countless number of women worldwide who are dismissed as hysterical when seeking help for their severe, chronic pain symptoms – that it is all, “in your head" and who are more likely to have their doctor refer them to a therapist rather than a pain clinic.
The examples are innumerable, and once you’ve become awakened to the phenomenon, you start to notice how pervasive it is. To understand part of what got us here, one only needs to appreciate that just thirty years ago; women weren't included in most healthcare and research studies. Or that even though women and men are physiologically different, many prescription drug therapies and treatments still in use today were disproportionally studied on men. But historical inequities aside, what is especially problematic is that there is currently no corresponding funding body for women’s health research. Combine that fact with the grossly disproportionate level of investment in women's health research funding versus men, and it is pretty easy to see how women have been systemically set up to receive the short end of the stick.
We know that when women are healthy, all society benefits. That there is undisputed evidence that healthy women mean healthy communities, not just in regard to overall wellness, but socially and economically too. On this International Women’s Day, while I’m pleased to see fractures in the current status quo emerging, I recognize there is a significant distance to go in the pursuit of respect, equity and access in women’s health.
We need to be reactive to women’s health needs as identified by patients, supported by research, and put into action by health care practitioners and government. This ongoing awakening as to the gender disparities within health will only change if brought to light. Ask more questions. Share what you learn. Educate your allies and demand more. It needn’t be an exercise in physician-shaming, male-bashing or levying historical judgment; rather it is the recognition of unconscious biases and how this moment in time, which is growing into a movement; has room for everyone to participate within it because the benefits unequivocally serve us all.
For all the women in your life, be they partners, mothers, sisters, cousins, friends or daughters; the door has finally been cracked open, and by being ruthless about communicating the facts on women’s health, regardless of the barriers, together, we can kick it wide open.
This is how movements get started, and it’s time to ensure women have access to the highest quality healthcare when, where, and how they need it.
The anticipation, the excitement, the unknown and the unrelenting desperation to deliver a healthy baby are shared by every woman in pregnancy. Respect and the opportunity to participate in one’s own decisions in childbirth are likely assumed as
automatic. But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), that is not necessarily so.
In 2017, the organization published standards for quality of maternal and newborn care that included prioritizing respect and patient-led decision-making. A prior WHO review across 34 countries outlined numerous instances of human-rights abuses in childbirth—including physical, sexual and verbal abuse, as well as the loss of autonomy and lack of supportive care. The report concluded there was no consensus on how to measure disrespect in maternity care. However the work of Dr. Saraswathi Vedam, principal of the University of B.C.’s Birth Place Lab and associate professor of midwifery at BC Women’s, is changing that.
“All the major health organizations realized they didn’t reach the millennium development goals for mothers and babies,” explains Vedam from her BC Women’s Hospital research office. “They thought the answer was to institutionalize birth and incentivize people to come to the hospital, but they didn’t increase the amount of resources in the hospital. Many women who come to the hospital from the village in India, sub-Saharan Africa or the Philippines, for example, face overcrowded, understaffed units, a lack of privacy and frustrated providers. We know that their experience of mistreatment leads them to delay coming in or seeking help when needed, which is clearly not safer.”
Throughout her 30-year career as a midwife and researcher, Vedam has focused on respect and autonomy in childbirth. Her unyielding commitment to being a leader in patient-centred care resonates deeply at BC Women’s, which is proud to be the first hospital in B.C. to have credentialed midwife attendants at birth. In that pioneering tradition, Vedam is also breaking new ground in addressing the challenges outlined by the WHO through creating the first quality measures to assess provider-patient relationships and maternal access to person-centred maternity care.
Funding from partners at the Vancouver Foundation, BC Womens Hospital and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research enabled Changing Childbirth in BC, a community-led research project, and led to the development of the MADM (Mother’s Autonomy in Decision Making) scale and MORi (Mothers on Respect index). These tools recently received an Innovation award from the National Quality Forum. With new tools in place to quantify a patient’s experience, this data could now be used to measure current practices and inform new ones.
More than 4,000 women across B.C. were surveyed about their childbirth experiences and reported variations in respect and autonomy during pregnancy depending on their health status and preferences for care, as well as where and how they gave birth. Overseen by Vedam, the project is run through a steering group of women from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Despite the diversity of the participants, Vedam says they all raised similar concerns.
“Ninety-five percent of women said it was ‘very important’ or ‘important’ that they lead decisions about their care,” Vedam notes. “But very few said they were able to.” Women who were dissatisfied with their role in decision-making had very low MADM scores, indicating a lack of autonomy. Vedam’s research also found women with higher medical or social risks during pregnancy were four times as likely to have low MORi scores, indicating they felt less respected by their care providers. Recent immigrants and refugees, or women with a history of substance use, incarceration, poverty and/or homelessness were twice as likely to have low MORi scores. Women with midwifery care reported higher MADM and MORi scores compared to women with just physician care.
“We found that overall in B.C., women felt a good level of respect, but there were big differences in how much autonomy they felt,” explains Vedam. “Both respect and autonomy were linked to how much pressure they felt to accept a certain intervention.”
Vedam’s hope is that MADM and MORi will inform efforts to deliver the highest levels of maternal care. “We have very good outcomes for people here, unlike in the global south,” she points out. “Where we haven’t improved is in the experience of care, and that’s where this kind of work that is patient-directed and informed will help…. The whole world is talking about respectful maternity care and respectful standards. Now is our chance to make it better.”
Written by Jessica Werb
Photography by Claudette Carracedo
- Women's Magazine
For many women, reproductive care is just another part of standard health care, including regular Pap smears. For others, accessing that kind of care is far more challenging. Women living in conditions of social marginalization, as well as women living in rural and remote communities across Canada and beyond, can face multiple barriers when it comes to reproductive care.
For Dr. Sheona Mitchell-Foster, a practising obstetrician/gynecologist based in Prince George and researcher with the Women’s Health Research Institute at BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre, the stark health discrepancies among Canadian women are as shocking as they are intolerable. In fact, the academic clinician at the University of B.C.’s Northern Medical Program says it was “righteous indignation” that motivated her to focus her work on underserved populations in the first place.
“It’s completely unacceptable that we’re still seeing such incredible disparities in different populations across Canada,” Mitchell-Foster says. “There are still such differences in maternal and neonatal outcomes, specifically around HIV and cervical cancer. All women should have access to high-quality, culturally safe care regardless of where they live.”
Recognizing Canada's colonial history, culturally safe care allows for health-care professionals to minimize barriers that Indigenous women face. The intergenerational trauma it caused affects the way many women relate to health care today.
“I don’t think enough clinical care providers are aware that our health-care system is ultimately a colonial system,” she says. “Women across generations hesitate to engage with care because of that. If your aunt or mother was sterilized without her consent, would you engage with the health-care system? It makes it incredibly difficult to engage in anything around reproductive care.”
Mitchell-Foster’s research relates to women with substance use in pregnancy and pregnant women living with HIV. She is also pursuing relational ways to dismantle barriers to reproductive screening, specifically cervical cancer screening, by testing for HPV (human papillomavirus).
A mother of three, Mitchell-Foster has long been involved in the ASPIRE program, which offers HPV self-collection to women in low- and middle-income countries. Self-collection entails distributing user-friendly kits with swabs for testing for HPV as well as other sexually transmitted infections, without the need for a pelvic examination. This is coupled with already-existing community women’s groups and empowerment strategies.
She has brought this model to northern B.C., with a pilot project now under way in partnership with Carrier Sekani Family Services and Métis Nation B.C. The hope is that this approach will fit well with women’s needs and experiences in northern B.C., markedly improving participation in screening programs, and will ultimately be implemented throughout the north.
“Consider the multiple barriers that a woman may have in engaging with our health-care system. Now there’s an opportunity to self-collect, to do it confidentially and avoid a particularly invasive medical exam that may be associated with embarrassment, fear or judgment,” Mitchell-Foster says.“It allows women to take control of their own health in a way that was not previously possible.”
Written by Gail Johnson
Photography by Kelly Bergman
- Women's Magazine
1. In some cases, Angiograms are unable to detect early signs of female heart failure because testing techniques were designed for male subjects.
2. Younger women are almost twice as likely to die from heart disease as their male counterparts. Mortality rates for heart diseases are improving for every demographic group, except young women.
3. Each year in Canada heart disease kills more women than men. It is the leading cause of death for women over 55, and the second most common cause of death for women under 55.
4. Until the 1990s, women were not included in most medical research studies.
5. Women are more likely to report severe and long-lasting pain, but are typically not treated as aggressively as men.
6. Women metabolize drugs differently than men.
7. 270,000 women worldwide die from cervical cancer annually. Without immediate action, by 2030 the number is projected to rise to 500,000. Sadly, cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable.
8. Younger women are more likely than men to dismiss health symptoms as “false alarms” not requiring medical attention.
9. Endometriosis is a disease in which tissue from the uterine lining grows outside the uterus. Currently there is no cure.
10. Endometriosis affects approximately 176 million women worldwide during their reproductive years (1 in every 10 women).
- Women's Magazine
In 2016 Dr. Lori Brotto, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of B.C., was named executive director of the Women’s Health Research Institute (WHRI), a leading academic and research centre embedded within BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre with the goal of enabling women’s health research across the spectrum. Here Brotto talks about her work and her vision.
Q: Why is the funding of women’s health research so important?
A: When women are healthy, all of society benefits…. When we study societies where women are not healthy, it is immediately evident that many different aspects of those societies suffer. Without research, excellent health care is simply not possible, and research absolutely depends on funding.
Q: What are some of the new and interesting research projects on the go at WHRI?
A: One of our star WHRI members is a world leader in the vaccine for HPV (human papillomavirus). Her collaborative and international research has the long-term aim of eventually eradicating cervical cancer (because the vaccine prevents many of the strains of HPV associated with cervical cancer). In another [initiative], we are working to develop a smartphone app designed to be culturally safe for Indigenous and immigrant women struggling with postpartum depression…. There’s so much quality work being done by our close to 200 members across B.C., but that’s just a quick snapshot.
Q: What are some of the challenges unique to studying women’s health?
A: One of the challenges is that there is no dedicated funding body for women’s health research. For example, there is the Arthritis Foundation and the Kidney Foundation, but there is no corresponding funding body for research on women’s health topics. As a result, you end up having researchers do this work totally or mostly unfunded, which means it gets done off the side of their desk, or they scrape together some volunteers, or it simply doesn’t happen.
Q: What can be done to break down barriers that prevent women from achieving their best possible health?
A: This is going to sound so clichéd but it’s so true. It’s awareness. And that’s part of the reason why I very readily accept invitations to speak with the media, because it’s only through increasing awareness and providing education to the general public—not just women, but everyone—that we will make progress. Knowledge-raising and awareness-raising campaigns are absolutely key.
Q: You have an extensive background in sex research. What role does sexual health play in the totality of a woman’s well-being?
A: Sexuality is a core part of quality of life. It’s not just this small, circumscribed, leisurely activity that some people do some of the time. Everyone, even people who are not sexually active for any number of reasons, still have a sense of their sexuality and how important that is to them. It’s a core part of people’s identity. It shapes self-esteem. It’s associated with depression, anxiety, relationship discord, infidelity—it’s all related to sexuality.
Q: The theme for this issue is ‘Women’s health warriors.’ In your opinion, what makes a warrior for women’s health?
A: Someone who is absolutely ruthless in communicating the facts about women’s health to broad audiences, despite all the barriers that might get in the way, like political barriers, systemic barriers or personal barriers. The warrior is someone who still champions the scientific voice, regardless of any potential backlash and says, “Actually, no, these are the facts.”
Written by Joseph Dubé.
Photography by Sherri Koop.
- Women's Health Research
Genesa Greening believes in a collaborative work environment. She values open participation from individuals with different ideas and perspectives. “I describe my leadership style as transparent, communicative and engaging.”
Before becoming CEO at the BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre Foundation in October 2016, Greening served as executive director of First United Church Community Ministry Society. Over the years, she made a name for herself raising money for non-profit organizations.
Her biggest ally was the late Virginia Greene, one of B.C.’s most successful business and community leaders. Greene was responsible for marketing Expo 86, and was deputy minister with the Province of British Columbia and a successful business entrepreneur. Early on in her career, Greening says Greene took her under her wing, introducing her to some of the city’s most influential women. “Virginia was everything I wanted to be … authentic, transparent and true to who she was,” Greening says. “She was also opinionated, strong-willed, gifted and yet graceful, passionate and wholly female.”
Greening’s other mentor was Krista Thompson, executive director at Covenant House. “From Krista, I learned about the complexities of a political environment,” Greening says. “I owe a lot to both as they taught me to believe in myself, trust in my decisions and be unapologetic about leading others.”
From former bosses, Greening understood early on that the old-school ways of micromanaging don’t work in today’s workplace. Today, Greening has a team of 26 “exceptionally dedicated people” working for her.“I’m not afraid to hire gifted women who are braver, smarter and more capable than me, because then the organization can only thrive.”
- Awards + Accomplishments
Turning $231,000 into $4.2 million is no easy task. It requires a consortium of dedicated funders and a national non-profit organization, Genome Canada, to believe in the vision sufficiently enough to match the combined funding.
BC Women’s Hospital Foundation is proud to announce that is exactly what happened when it contributed $231,000 alongside its funding partners from the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, the Provincial Health Services Authority, Genome BC, and Genome Quebec in jointly securing $2.1 million – and which was matched by national funding agency, Genome Canada – to optimize genetic counselling access and implementation across Canada. In the end, the combined investment totaled $4.2 million, making the “GenCOUNSEL” proposal the largest known genetic counselling grant ever recorded.
Genetic counsellors are specialist healthcare providers who represent the front line of genetics. Genome-wide sequencing (GWS) is a genetic test that analyzes a person’s entire genetic makeup to diagnose the cause of genetic disorders. GWS can also diagnose disorders or increased disease risk that are unrelated to the original reason for testing as well as generate results that are difficult to interpret. By providing education and emotional support to patients and families considering GWS, genetic counsellors help to inform decision-making in genetic testing and can assist in preventing decisions that can have devastating health consequences. GWS is not routinely available in Canada yet, but Dr. Alison Elliott, Board certified genetic counsellor, Clinical Associate Professor, UBC and BC Women’s Hospital Project Lead believes that GWS will soon be clinically available and that this type of new investment has the opportunity to change everything.
“The type of equity and access this investment provides will allow for thousands of Canadians every year to benefit from genomic medicine, regardless of geographic location, or socio-economic status,” says Dr. Elliott.
Alongside her Project Co-Leads, Dr. Jehannine Austin (UBC), Dr. Larry Lynd (UBC), and Dr. Bartha Knoppers (McGill), Dr. Elliott believes this type of homegrown investment; “provides Canada an opportunity to be the global leader in genetic counselling.”
- Awards + Accomplishments
For millions of people worldwide, the correlation between "cancer" and "death" remains an inescapable terror. So when a word like "eradication" enters the cancer lexicon as an outcome, it rightly gains a great deal of attention.
Dr. Gina Ogilvie, Senior Advisor and Assistant Director of the Women's Health Research Institute at BC Women's Hospital, and Canada Research Chair in Global Control of HPV-related Disease at UBC is on a mission to eradicate cervical cancer in her lifetime – and with her partners across BC, their work is quickly closing the gap in doing so. Her research team focuses on how to use human papillomavirus (HPV) screening and the HPV vaccine to eliminate cervical cancer.
HPV-testing and HPV vaccination are ground-breaking advancements in preventing cervical cancer, and Dr. Ogilvie’s research, which focuses on how to best implement these tools, has placed her at the forefront as a world leader in the global fight to end cervical cancer.
As a result of her team’s work, the World Health Organization (WHO) has adopted her recommended two-dose vaccination protocol to prevent HPV infection (previously three doses), and Dr. Ogilvie is determined to examine if we can get it down to one, which would have global impacts on the lives of millions of women. Every year, more than 270,000 women worldwide, most of them in the prime of their lives with babies and young families, die from cervical cancer. Without immediate action, by 2030, that number is projected to rise to 500,000. “At last,' says Ogilvie, 'we have the possibility to head down the road to eradication. There’s no question that HPV-testing is the biggest breakthrough in preventing cervical cancer since the Pap smear.”
While Dr. Ogilvie's research is internationally recognized, she is also honoured to be chosen as 2018's Sexual Health Champion by Options for Sexual Health, Canada's largest non-profit provider of sexual health services. “Dr. Ogilvie’s work offers an opportunity to see a future where HPV related cancers don’t exist in Canada.,’ says Options for Sexual Health Executive Director, Michelle Fortin, ‘Having a local expert conduct this work on such a global scale inspires us all to do better.”
- Awards + Accomplishments
Nearly 40 years old, Contessa feels she has a second chance to get things right. This is the first time she’s been clean and sober since she was 25 years old. She first heard about Fir Square Combined Care Unit six years ago when she was pregnant with her third child. She was told by women who have gone through the program that it’s safe, a good place to be and they won’t take your baby away from you. One of her friends who had been through the program was a heroin addict and the last time Contessa saw her, she was in jail. She didn’t think her friend was going to make it and live. That friend is now clean and sober for over five years, and Contessa thought to herself: ‘if she can do it, anybody can do it, and certainly, I can do it.’
Unfortunately, Contessa wasn’t able to get into the program due to limited space and made the difficult decision to give her baby up for adoption, as she knew she wouldn’t be able to properly care for her newborn daughter. When Contessa found out she was unexpectedly pregnant the fourth time around, she knew she needed to get into Fir, and went so far as to see the Mayor to ensure that she would be admitted to the program.
The good news came via a woman named Chris while Contessa was staying at Tent City; she was informed that there was a room available for her. While Contessa was a patient at Fir, she found out she was diabetic and was prescribed insulin. She had no idea she was diabetic; being at Fir allowed her to receive the proper health care she needed, as hard as it was, she changed her diet to keep her and her growing baby healthy. She was surprised how the nurses and doctors took such great care of her, she felt like she mattered and strived to do better and stay clean and sober for her baby.
On November 28, 2017, Contessa delivered a healthy baby girl via emergency C-section and named her Souliestia. She also made the decision to have her tubes removed during the C-section, noting that she’s had enough children at almost 40. Had she not been at Fir, Contessa doesn’t know where she would be today. Knowing that her and Souliestia can be a family has given the strength for Contessa to overcome her addictions and work towards a better life for both her and Souliestia.
“Fir has given me serenity. I feel good and love myself completely,” says Contessa. “It’s sad this is the only one in the world of its kind, where so many women need this help and attentive care.”
Contessa participated in art therapy, received the support she required through counselling, and felt like she had people on her side when the nurses took the time to listen and how the social worker helped to ensure that she and Souliestia could stay together.
Contessa is eager to start her new life and thinks that her family will be proud of her. She hopes to reconnect with her two eldest daughters and introduce them to their little sister. The care she received at Fir has given Contessa the strength to be a full-time mom, live life to the fullest and give the love her children deserves from her. This Family Day, Contessa will be able to celebrate the occasion with Souliestia. She is grateful that her family can stay intact and has plans to move to Salt Spring Island, where Contessa has fond memories of when she was growing up. Contessa hopes to share with Souliesta her love of camping and nature and looks forward to the future.
Grateful for their lives, the Laljis are honoured to give back to those just beginning theirs. In the 1970s, the Lalji family fled violence in Uganda and found peace and safety in Canada. The Laljis now wish to offer a similar safe harbour of care to new mothers and their babies at the Urgent Care Centre at BC Women’s Hospital. By establishing their successful real estate business, Larco Investments, the Laljis have been able to generously support many important causes.
The Lalji family values women as a cornerstone of our society and is passionate about contributing to building healthy families and communities. “Coming to Canada has given us immense opportunity and this is just one way that we can give back to people who need care at such an important time in their lives,” said Mansoor Lalji.
The new Urgent Care Centre at BC Women’s Hospital, supported by the Lalji family, is the only one of its kind in Canada for women who are pregnant through until six-weeks post-birth, who arrive for triage, assessment, and admissions to BC Women’s Hospital. The impressive new facility provides care to mothers in a quiet, private and welcoming space while enabling interdisciplinary collaboration and features:
• 10 large private single-patient rooms with designated space for a family member and private patient washrooms
• Redesigned clinical and patient areas to improve line-of-sight and flow of patients
• Large team care centre and private providers area to ensure inter-professional consults and interdisciplinary work
• Improved infection control with dedicated infection isolation rooms
“The gift the Laljis have given BC Women’s is a testament to their commitment to giving back to the community that supported them,” said Genesa M. Greening, President and CEO of BC Women’s Hospital Foundation. “They are living out the values of what it means to pay it forward, and we hope that the future generations of British Columbians who will begin their lives here will be just as inspired.”
- Maternity + Gynecology
Dr. Henry Morgentaler was a leader who risked his life to provide women access to safe abortions. He was integral in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to overturn the abortion law in Canada as unconstitutional, violating section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That was a landmark decision for reproductive rights for women and the case was dubbed the Morgentaler Decision.
Abortion was decriminalized in August 1969, but was still listed under the criminal code. A woman’s request for abortion required her physician to seek approval from a hospital-based committee of three physicians, none of whom could be the provider for that woman.
Committees could reject the request and access was further limited because abortions were not performed at all hospitals. The Badgely Committee in 1977 reported that these barriers caused delays of eight weeks on average, with poor and rural women most impacted. Privacy and confidentiality were also concerns, especially in small communities.
Morgentaler offered abortions in Quebec before abortion became legal because he knew many desperate women died from unsafe abortions, and believed women had the right to choose. Morgentaler was arrested, charged and acquitted many times—he was even imprisoned for providing abortion services. Undeterred, he continued to open illegal clinics to improve access for women.
I happened to be in Montreal, a naive 20-year-old medical student from Edinburgh, for my first-ever clinical experience in the summer of 1969. I saw a young woman in the ER in excruciating pain, an incident that left an indelible imprint. She had used potassium permanganate crystals, a highly caustic chemical used to treat infections, to self-induce an abortion because she felt that she couldn’t continue the pregnancy. She was left with a hole in her vagina that threatened her life. The experience forever shaped my views on women’s rights.
When the Supreme Court struck down the abortion law in 1988, women were afraid, and some believed abortion had now become illegal. One woman died in Ontario from a self-induced abortion, and in BC another woman was seen in emergency after Premier Bill van der Zalm temporarily de-insured abortions. Chief Justice Allan McEachern of the BC Supreme Court nullified the provincial Cabinet decision refusing public financing of abortion. After three years of uncertainty, Canada was left with no law because Bill C43, which re-introduced abortion into the criminal code, was defeated in the Senate on a tied vote. Abortion then became part of our health care system.
Stigma still surrounds a woman’s decision to have an abortion even though the procedure is not rare. One-third of women in BC would have had an abortion during their lives. It’s reported that half of women having abortions used contraception when they became pregnant. Only the woman has the full story and understanding of her decision in the event of an unplanned pregnancy. Unsafe abortions still claim the lives of tens of thousands of women each year around the world and will nonetheless be sought by women who are denied their right to choose. Access to contraception and safe abortion lowers abortion rates. Restrictive laws only result in women dying or suffering severe harm and sometimes imprisonment in many places around the globe.
Recently, the Government of BC announced universal no-cost coverage for Mifegymiso, an alternative to surgical abortion. It is used to terminate pregnancies at an early stage of up to nine weeks. Unlike other countries, women in Canada who are prescribed Mifegymiso are not required to be observed by a doctor while taking it, which is respectful of their dignity, privacy and confidentiality.
Globally, Canada is seen as a leader because abortion is a fundamental part of the health care system and not dependent on a law whereby others decide whether or not a woman is permitted to make a decision about her own health. Now, with Mifegymiso, women can choose if, when and where to have an abortion. Barriers of access have been removed. #SheDecides. Morgentaler would be pleased.
This article was originally published on the BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre website.
Written by: Dr. Dorothy Shaw, O.C., VP of Medical Affairs at BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre
For most people, entering the family business usually means assuming a place in some well-oiled company. For Genesa Greening, president and CEO of BC Women’s Hospital Foundation, following in her parents’ footsteps meant embarking on a life steeped in philanthropy.
"My parents were both in social service; they were both ordained ministers in the Salvation Army," Greening said. "I always knew l wanted to change the world even though I probably couldn't articulate how big that world was when I was small."
A desire for change carried her away from traditional schooling and helped her tenaciously achieve her goals without the benefit of post-secondary education.
Greening's fundraising success spans over two decades. She has cultivated growth and innovation at a wide array of hospital foundations, nonprofits and social justice organizations worldwide.
Her expertise garnered her a role as an instructor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology for fundraising and not-for-profit management programs.
Today, Greening leads a team of 22 at BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre Foundation. In just a year at the foundation, she has achieved 100% growth and a 250% rise in revenue projections. “I’ve always been able to find somewhere where there is a gap and I've been able to utilize either my natural skill set or my ability to bring amazing people together," she said.
Now, she is using those skills to improve the health of all women across the province. "I hold the idea that we can really change the tide on women’s health and that we have an opportunity to really work and see all women possess the best possible health care no matter what their socio-economic position or background.”
Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver city council named Greening to the Mayor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Addictions as well as the Women’s Advisory Committee, where she served as the chair of the social inclusion and security subcommittee.
Cheryl Davies, Chief Operating Officer at BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre; and Genesa Greening, President + CEO of BC Women's Hospital Foundation
Birthplace: St. John’s, Newfoundland
Where you live now: New Westminster
Highest level of education: High school diploma
Currently reading: Rereading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Currently listening to: All things Nigerian music with my son
When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up: International justice lawyer
Profession you would most like to try: UN ambassador
Toughest business or personal decision: Becoming a single mother
Advice you would give your younger self: What you value in yourself will become what others value so don’t hold back or compare. And never apologize for being capable
What’s left to do: Fight for equality for all
- Awards + Accomplishments