A palliative care patient chats with a sister in New York in this 2011 file photo. The Catholic Health Alliance of Canada is promoting palliative care as an option to assisted suicide, which is legal now after the Supreme Court struck down the ban. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Catholic health cannot support assisted suicide

  • June 20, 2015

OTTAWA - For the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada, there is no debate about euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“It’s not something Catholic health care can support or be involved in, that’s very clear,” said Michael Shea, president of the CHAC.

“It’s against our values and ethical principles.”

Shea said the CHAC is concerned about any legislation around assisted suicide that is coming in the wake of the February Supreme Court ruling that struck down Canada’s laws on assisted suicide with the Carter decision.

“We will be and are working to try to influence and affect any government policy that is developed in response to the Supreme Court ruling,” he said.

The CHAC is also going to focus on promoting palliative care as an option.

Catholic health care has been a pioneer and innovator in palliative care, Shea said, and CHAC continues to “see palliative care as an appropriate response to end-of-life care.”

“If Canadians had access to effective and appropriate palliative care, requests and a desire for assisted suicide would be a lot less,” he said.

“We’re going to try to do whatever we can to ensure it’s as restrictive as possible. We’re spending our time and resources looking at the ethical implications of a whole matter of policies around physician-assisted suicide.”

Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) said he hopes the CHAC will issue a strong statement against assisted suicide.

Schadenberg said it’s been a very difficult time for those “concerned with protecting people against euthanasia and assisted suicide” since the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“I am also very concerned about conscience issues for physicians,” he said. “The only actual way they can be protected is if the Catholic health care system comes out and says we will not in any way participate in these acts. We will not do it; we will not refer for it.

“If they would come out with such a statement that would put a lot of people in a place where they feel somewhat protected in a very bad situation,” Schadenberg said. “I don’t want to be in a position where I go to my physician when I’m down and feeling horrible about my situation and have my doctor acquiesce to assisted suicide or euthanasia when I am in need of good care.”

People need to have someone “there for us who will say, ‘I am not going to kill you or ask someone else to kill you,’ ” he said.

The EPC and the Archdiocese of Toronto are holding an information day June 23 at the University of St. Michael’s College featuring a panel including Schadenberg, Christian Dental and Medical Society executive director Larry Worthen and former National Post religion editor Charles Lewis, who as a chronic pain sufferer has been active in combating euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“This is significant,” Schadenberg said. “It means the archdiocese is going out of its way to ensure Catholics have an opportunity to learn about the issue.”

Meanwhile, the EPC’s “Give Us Time” postcard campaign launched earlier this year in response to the Supreme Court’s decision is gaining traction. Schadenberg estimates 160,000 postcards have been distributed.

The campaign urges Justice Minister Peter MacKay to establish a Royal Commission to study the impact of assisted suicide and asks for the invoking of the notwithstanding clause to give Parliament more time to craft legislation.

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