Archbishop Paul-André Durocher

Canada’s Catholic bishops want in on euthanasia debate

  • May 26, 2015

OTTAWA - Archbishop Paul-André Durocher has written the Justice Minister requesting that Canada’s Catholic bishops be included in consultations regarding assisted suicide legislation.

In a letter released May 25, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president expressed deep concern about the implications of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Feb. 6 ruling in the Carter decision that struck down the laws against assisted suicide and opened the way to doctor-assisted-death.

Durocher said the bishops want to be consulted to ensure “the law offers the greatest protection possible to the lives and health of all, and that it also ensures complete protection for the rights and freedom of conscience of health-care workers and managers.”

Justice Minister Peter MacKay has told journalists a wide-ranging consultation would begin soon and that he expected new legislation to be passed before the one-year suspension the Supreme Court allowed before putting its decision into effect. MacKay said no legislation would be tabled before the October federal election, sidelining euthanasia and assisted suicide as campaign issues.

“The classic words of the Hippocratic Oath bind medical practitioners to keep patients ‘from harm and injustice,’ and not to ‘give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it’ nor to ‘make a suggestion to this effect,’ ” Durocher wrote MacKay.

“The court’s ruling not only erodes society’s appreciation for human life, but also the trust and confidence all people, particularly those most vulnerable, should have in medical personnel and health-care institutions to protect their lives.”

The archbishop noted the court pointed out provincial legislatures and colleges of physicians will need to ensure the Charter rights of physicians and other health-care workers and prevent them “from being compelled to provide, or be involved in, physician-assisted suicide.”

Durocher reminded MacKay of the long-standing Catholic commitment to health care and its involvement in establishing many health-care institutions in Canada. In addition, many Catholics are involved in the field, he wrote.

“Compassion and care for the sick, the dying and those socially and economically vulnerable is a principal work of mercy for our Church,” he wrote. “Together with the leaders and members of many other faith communities, we too are deeply troubled by the Supreme Court ruling and concerned about the possible implications of any new legislation that will be developed in view of implementing that ruling.”

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, McGill University bio-ethicist Margaret Somerville, the Association for Reformed Political Action and others have been calling on the government to set up a Royal Commission to examine the implications of assisted suicide and euthanasia and to invoke the Charter’s notwithstanding clause to override the Court’s decision for five years to give more time to respond.

Others have argued about the risk of doing nothing, leaving Canada with a legal void similar to that on abortion that would leave vulnerable Canadians unprotected. The Quebec grassroots group Living with Dignity opposes changing the law, but its executive director Nic Steenhout has said the group is also “facing reality” and wants to see the strictest limits possible. Some like Conservative MP Steven Fletcher have urged the quick adoption of his assisted suicide private members’ bill to bring legislation in line with the court decision.

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