There is no law that requires institutions, such as St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, pictured in this 2010 photo, to provide assisted suicide, writes editorial. Photo courtesy of Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons

There is no law

  • October 13, 2016

There is a dangerous misconception that because the courts and Parliament have decided people can obtain an assisted suicide, health care institutions therefore have a legal obligation to assess candidates and perform these killings.

This false premise framed a recent Ottawa Citizen editorial that asked: Why should a publicly funded institution be permitted to refuse a service to the dying that is legal? Then it reached as odd conclusion: Tell institutions to follow the law.

Follow the law? There is no such law.

The Supreme Court never suggested institutions be constitutionally required to provide assisted suicide. And Parliament certainly included no such demand when it amended the Criminal Code to permit assisted suicide in limited circumstances. Nor has any provincial government decreed that just because someone wants to die, an institution, Catholic or otherwise, must make it happen.

 So it is ridiculous to claim that health care facilities which reject assisted killing are breaking the law. It’s like suggesting restaurants that refuse to serve wine are breaking the law because alcohol is legal. Passing a law that makes assisted suicide legal hardly makes it illegal to say no to assisted suicide. Further, in addition to no legal requirement for any person or institution to abet assisted suicide, any government that enacted that law would, hopefully, lose a constitutional challenge based on freedom of conscience and religion.

Yet that is the spin in much of the mainstream media as Canada’s assisted suicide offensive advances into a new phase — from being a clash about giving some people choice about how they die, into a campaign intent on denying the right of conscientious choice to health care institutions. It is a campaign that must be rigorously opposed.

The issue made recent headlines due to a Vancouver case in which a patient’s request for an assisted-suicide assessment was refused at St. Paul’s Hospital. The Catholic institution quite rightly explained it did not offer that service and the patient was transferred to another facility. A local health authority subsequently suggested it should be mandatory for all publicly funded institutions to provide assisted suicide services, which then prompted a letter of protest from Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller.

What is playing out in Vancouver is just the beginning. Catholic and other faith-based institutions across Canada will face increasing public and political pressure to set aside religious and conscience objections to facilitate assisted suicide. Procedures such as organ transplants and orthopaedic surgeries are routinely referred from one hospital to another. Catholic hospitals are not forced to perform abortions. But the assisted-suicide lobby offers no such hint of religious tolerance or accommodation when it comes to their issue.

That’s their right, of course, but to suggest their position is supported by law is absurd.

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