Ashland Community Hospital officials insist the end-of-life care its patients receive will not change if a partnership is formed with Dignity Health.

Ashland Community Hospital officials insist the end-of-life care its patients receive will not change if a partnership is formed with Dignity Health.

Physicians at ACH can prescribe patients who qualify under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act medication that induces death upon ingesting, said Mark Marchetti, ACH chief executive officer. "We have no policies that dictate the issue one way or another," Marchetti said. "We certainly don't monitor our physicians' prescribing."

The hospital's physicians can discuss the option of self-administered death with patients, he said.

Many of ACH's physicians have made the personal and legal choice to not prescribe aid-in-dying medications, Marchetti said, "because that's their personal philosophical position."

Patients who are part of ACH's Hospice Program, which cares for those diagnosed with illnesses that likely will kill them within six months, can discuss the option of self-administered death with hospice nurses and social workers as well, he said.

The Hospice Program's nurses and social workers "refer them to their own physician and continue to provide the hospice services ... and we're even willing to be there while they take the drug," Marchetti said. "We don't participate."

The Oregon Death with Dignity Act requires a patient who opts for aid in dying to administer the life-ending drug independently.

Jason Renaud, a representative from Compassion & Choices of Oregon, said he is concerned ACH's policy will change if a partnership is formed.

Dignity Health was formerly known as Catholic Health Care West until Jan. 23, when it changed its name and its affiliation with the Catholic Church. Since the change, the hospital system is no longer a sponsored ministry of the church, but a self-governing, nonprofit health care system.

However, 25 of Dignity's 40 hospitals remain Catholic-affiliated and are required to adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directive for Catholic Health Care Services. Because of that affiliation, Dignity's nonCatholic hospitals are required to follow a less stringent set of protocols by Dignity Health's Statement of Common Values.

It reads: "Death is a sacred part of life's journey; we will intentionally neither hasten nor delay it. For this reason, physician-assisted suicide is not part of Dignity Health's mission."

Given that statement, "we are very concerned the ACH policy will deny doctors' ability to write a prescription for aid in dying," Renaud said.

Marchetti said patients' rights, outlined in Dignity Health's Statement of Common Values, also must be considered, and they have the right to make medical decisions that involve them — including the decision to request aid in dying.

Two community forums, the first one today, could be the public's last opportunity to inquire and provide input about a possible merger before the final phase of negotiations begins.

Both meetings will take place in the ACH cafeteria, 560 Catalina Drive. They are scheduled from 7 to 8:30 p.m. today, Sept. 13, and 9 to 10:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 14.

A memorandum of understanding will have to be signed to formalize ACH's membership with Dignity Health.

A partnership could be formed by the beginning of October, said Janet Troy, ACH director of development.

Dignity Health, the nation's fifth-largest hospital system, is based in San Francisco and operates 40 hospitals and 150 care centers in California, Arizona and Nevada, employing about 65,000 people. A partnership with ACH would be its first affiliate in Oregon.

Because the hospital operates under a long-term lease with the city of Ashland, the City Council will have a say in approving whatever lease arrangement emerges out of an alliance.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email