Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto. Register file photo.

Editorial: The ‘shadow’ grows

  • August 22, 2019

Nine months ago, Cardinal Thomas Collins declared that a “cold shadow of euthanasia” that was spreading across Canada had to be resisted.

He was referring specifically to calls by euthanasia advocates to extend the practice to include minors and psychiatric patients, and to the threat posed to Catholic health care institutions that want no part in deliberately ending a life.

But recently that cold shadow appeared in the form of a doctor with a black bag of toxin secretly walking down a nursing home’s hallway and, behind a closed door, delivering death at a faith-based institution which has a policy that expressly forbids euthanasia. And if that weren’t frightening enough, a medical board subsequently all but blessed the doctor’s actions.

This chilling affair should set off alarm bells in every institution across Canada, Catholic or otherwise, which rejects euthanasia. In B.C., the disquieting message is that religious values and faith-based regulations can be disrespected with impunity by doctors who are intent on euthanizing a patient.

Earlier this summer the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia ruled that a doctor who admitted to covertly entering an Orthodox Jewish nursing home to euthanize a consenting cancer patient would face no discipline. Dr. Ellen Wiebe was fully aware of a policy that expressly prohibits euthanasia at the Louis Brier Home and Hospital. The institution permits on-site assessments and transfers eligible patients to sites which will carry out euthanasia. 

But Wiebe’s patient preferred to stay put so patient and doctor conspired to disrespect the religious foundation of the facility. The doctor somehow entered the building after hours and snuck down the corridor to euthanize the patient.

After the Louis Brier Home filed a grievance, the B.C. doctors’ regulatory body investigated and apparently found nothing wrong with the doctor’s behaviour. It found nothing unethical about a doctor furtively accessing a building after hours in order to defy an institution’s clear-cut anti-euthanasia policy.

The business-as-usual ruling rightly shocked the facility’s chief executive officer, David Keselman. “This is horror science fiction,” he said. But, sadly, there is nothing fictional about it. 

Disdain for religious values and disrespect of faith are 21st-century realities. A society that boasts about its capacity for tolerance and respect is increasingly less tolerant and less respectful of religious beliefs and traditions. That is particularly alarming for Catholic health-care providers who have been fighting to preserve their rights of religious freedom and conscience. 

To date, Catholic institutions have been able to keep euthanasia beyond their doors. But no B.C. institution can feel comfortable now. Should the B.C. horror show establish a national precedent, guarded doors and clear rules at Canada’s Catholic institutions may be insufficient to guarantee euthanasia-free zones.

The shadow is cold indeed — and spreading.

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Catholic institutions let “assessors” into their facilities to assess people for euthanasia. Example: Covenant Health Care, Alberta This is hardly keeping euthanasia “beyond their doors”.

Maureen Remus
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