Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins said that a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that legalizes assisted suicide is wrong and indicates that a society has “lost its moral compass,” in a statement published Feb. 10. He also said physicians are called to be “servants of healing” and not “agents of death.” CNS photo/Paul Haring

Cardinal Collins: State is wrong to permit assisted suicide

  • February 11, 2015

OTTAWA - A Supreme Court of Canada ruling that legalizes assisted suicide “is simply wrong” and indicates a society that “has lost its moral compass,” said Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins.

In a blunt statement issued four days after Canada’s highest court unanimously struck down a ban on physician-assisted suicide and opened the door to assisted death for people who may not even have a terminal illness, Collins said doctors “are called to be servants of healing, not agents of death.”

“It is a perversion of the vocation of physicians to have them engaged in helping people to kill themselves,” he wrote.

He joined a long list expressing disappointment and indignation following the court’s historic Feb. 6 ruling that overturned Canada’s ban on assisted suicide. The court gave federal and provincial bodies 12 months to draft legislation to regulate how physicians may kill consenting adults who are enduring what the judges called “intolerable” physical or psychological suffering.  

Canada now joins Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland, plus a handful of American states, that permit physician assisted suicide.

“No one has a right to do that, and it is simply wrong for the state to allow or encourage that,” Collins wrote.

He called assisted suicide the “deceptively attractive face of euthanasia,” and predicted that the ruling will lead “to the more widespread practice of euthanasia” in Canada as whatever controls are enacted are “swept away” over time.

“We have only to look at some European countries to see what lies ahead,” said Collins, referring to abuses occurring in the Netherlands and Belgium.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement that deplored assisted suicide and entreated governments and courts to interpret the court decision “in its narrowest terms, resisting any calls to go beyond this to so called ‘acts of mercy’ and euthanasia.”

Helping someone to commit suicide is “neither an act of justice or mercy, nor is it part of palliative care,” wrote Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the CCCB.

Durocher stressed the court ruling does not change Catholic teaching regarding assisted suicide, which, according to the catechism, “constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, our Creator.”

He was joined by several bishops across the country in objecting to the ruling, as well as several lay organizations, including the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, Campaign Life Coalition, the Catholic Civil Rights League, the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, REAL Women of Canada and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

Michele Boulva, executive director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family called it an “extraordinarily sad day in the history of our country.”

“In the decision, the Supreme Court is giving some of us permission to kill,” she said. “We cannot overstate the gravity of the situation.”

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, the Catholic Civil Rights League and Campaign Life Coalition all called on Ottawa to use the notwithstanding clause to override the court decision and retain the current ban on assisted suicide.

“The Supreme Court is naïve to think that assisted suicide will not be abused, when abuse already occurs,” wrote Alex Schadenberg, EPC executive director.

In overturning its 1993 decision which upheld the ban on assisted suicide, the court ruled that existing Criminal Code provisions are an “unjustifiable” infringement on Section 7 of the Charter, which guarantees life, liberty and security of the person. In a 9-0 vote, the judges said the current total ban on assisted suicide is over broad and denies the option of physician-assisted death to people who lack the capacity to end their own lives.

The court said reversing its 1993 decision in the Sue Rodriguez case was justified due to changing social attitudes that have resulted in at least eight jurisdictions around the world legalizing assisted suicide in the past two decades.

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition’s media representative Taylor Hyatt, who has cerebral palsy, said she was “extremely disappointed” by the decision. At worst, she thought the court might permit assisted death for terminal patients or for people at the end of their lives.

“Instead, it was specified that people with disabilities who believe their conditions to be non-terminal and insufferable could request assistance in ending their life,” she said. “That means me.”

The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada referred to studies that show safeguards are not always effective in jurisdictions where assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal. It said that it “sees no evidence to believe ‘suicide creep’ won’t also happen in Canada.”

(With files from Deborah Gyapong)


Statement from Cardinal Thomas Collins re: Supreme Court of Canada decision on assisted suicide

February 10, 2015

“For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.” Psalm 31

In our days, as in the days of the psalmist, so many years ago, people can suffer grievously during their journey through this “valley of tears,” and may even be tempted to request assisted suicide. The Supreme Court has now allowed that, and at first glance, it may seem to be the compassionate thing to do.

There is certainly no need to take extreme measures to extend the length of life. When people are dying, we should surround them with love as they enter into their final experience on this earth, and relieve as best we can any suffering they endure. We need as a society to make effective palliative care more available. But there is a profound difference between compassionately journeying with someone who is dying, or who is suffering when not in danger of death, and killing that person, or helping that person to commit suicide. No one has a right to do that, and it is simply wrong for the state to allow or to encourage that.

Suicide is already a sadly common tragedy in our society, as persons facing what at the moment they feel to be intolerable suffering of some kind, decide to end their life. We all need to reach out compassionately to anyone contemplating suicide, and to offer whatever help we can to alleviate their pain, be it physical or psychological, so they can appreciate the value of their life, and know they are loved. But for anyone actually to assist them not to escape but to commit suicide is wrong. It is a perversion of the vocation of physicians to have them engaged in helping people to kill themselves.

Physicians are called to be servants of healing, not agents of death.

Assisted suicide is the deceptively attractive face of euthanasia. The most compelling cases grip our attention and sway the debate, and so the Court opens the door to assisted suicide, all the while seeming to do less than it actually has done by surrounding its action with a set of limiting conditions, seeking to guarantee informed consent, as if that were the key issue. But the state is authorizing the killing of an innocent person, whatever controls are in place, and even those limitations can over time be swept away, leading to the more widespread practice of euthanasia. We have only to look at some European countries to see what lies ahead. We Canadians patriotically believe our country is special, but it is not so special as to be immune to the dynamics of increasing access to medical killing, as individualist rationales make persuasive the argument for that in more and more cases.

The court, recognizing that many physicians, faithful to their healing vocation, will not assist people to kill themselves, makes some very slight room for freedom of conscience. It trusts local Colleges of Physicians and other such groups to deal appropriately with the conscience issue.

This trust is misplaced. Currently the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is proposing a draft conscience policy which states that physicians who refuse to perform a procedure to which they morally object must arrange that the procedure gets done by someone else. In other words, they are compelled to become accomplices. I urge the College not to go through with this unjust policy, and I urge Ontarians, especially physicians, to speak up against it. First the politicians; now the physicians: the assault on freedom of conscience steadily advances in our country.

We all are on the way to death and should gain wisdom from contemplating that inescapable fact, so that we use each present moment to prepare for the moment of our death by living well. We should provide all who are suffering with the best medical assistance we can offer, especially in palliative care for those who are coming to the end of life. Most importantly, we should accompany each person with love, especially those without friends or family. But any society that authorizes killing people through assisted suicide and euthanasia has lost its moral compass.

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