The College of Midwives of B.C. was in court Thursday seeking to ban a Victoria woman from using the term “death midwife” to describe her work helping people who are dying and their families.
In 2016, the organization that regulates the province’s midwives sent Pashta MaryMoon a letter asking her to stop using the term, but she declined to do so.
The college then filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court seeking a permanent injunction against her.
On Thursday, Lisa Fong, a lawyer for the college, told Justice Neena Sharma that MaryMoon’s use of the term “death midwife” contravened the Health Professions Act.
She said that the law prevents any person other than a registered member of the college from using a reserved title as part of another title describing a person’s work.
“The respondent, Ms. MaryMoon, she carries on business as a death midwife. There’s no dispute. She’s not a registrant of the college. She’s not a midwife. The legislature has since 1995 reserved the title midwife for exclusive use by registrants of the college.”
While MaryMoon may warn her clients that she is not a registrant of the college, the public interest underlying the creation of the reserved title of midwife, which includes creating clarity for the public as to who is regulated and who is not, is still injured by misuse of the term, she added.
The Victoria woman attracted the attention of the college by describing herself as a death midwife on her Twitter homepage and in a biography on the website Dying With Dignity Canada.
MaryMoon says she provides care for the terminally ill and their families throughout the process of dying, including working with them, helping to deal with a deceased body at home, and developing whatever kind of ceremony the family wants.
By contrast, midwives registered through the college have a caseload of clients and newborns from early pregnancy through to six weeks postpartum. There are about 360 midwives in B.C.
Mark Walton, a lawyer for MaryMoon, told the judge that there was no argument his client was engaged in a health profession.
He said MaryMoon was using the term midwife in a very specific way and it wasn’t about pregnancy, or births, or mothers.
“Pashta MaryMoon does something quite different than midwives,” Walton said
He added that MaryMoon has respect for what birth midwives do, but doesn’t think she should be prevented from using the term midwife to describe her work.
MaryMoon is also arguing that her rights to freedom of expression and to life, liberty and security of the person are affected by the college’s position.
The college was also seeking an injunction against Patricia Keith, a Surrey resident, but dropped proceedings against her after she agreed not to call herself a death midwife.
Outside court, MaryMoon explained that what she does with the dying is meant to augment palliative care.
“We’re not a replacement. We’re not medical professionals. But we do more of the sort of psycho-social, emotional, spiritual side of supporting the family and the dying person.”
MaryMoon said that the term midwife has been around a long time and initially involved both birth and death. She questioned whether it should now be an exclusive term for the college.
“We’re saying that we really feel that birthing midwives should call themselves registered midwives, and that would make it really clear that they’re registered with the college and they’re trained to get that registration,” she said.
“And then, if that was the reserved title, then there would be no issue with using the term death midwife.”
The case is expected to be back in court Friday for further arguments.