Bishop Douglas Crosby, right , spoke at a news conference Sept. 18 to wrap up the bishops’ annual plenary. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Canada’s bishops urge invoking notwithstanding clause on assisted suicide

  • September 18, 2015

OTTAWA - Canada’s Catholic bishops called unanimously Sept. 18 for the federal government to invoke the notwithstanding clause in response to the Supreme Court’s Feb. 6 Carter decision on euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“We urge the government that is elected on Oct. 19 to invoke the notwithstanding clause and extend this timeline to five years,” said the past president and the new president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops at a news conference in Cornwall, Ont. “If ever a legal decision warranted invoking this clause in our Constitution, this is it.”

The federal government has never invoked the clause to overrule the Court’s rulings, and the Conservative government has already said it was not a path it would take.

Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, outgoing president of the bishops’ conference, and Bishop Douglas Crosby, the new president, spoke at a news conference Sept. 18 to wrap up the bishops’ annual plenary, held Sept. 14-18 in this city along the St. Lawrence River.

The bishops said the one-year period the Supreme Court gave Parliament to craft a new law is “far too short for such a fundamental change in our laws to enter into force.”

“In the face of the terrible suffering that can be caused by illnesses or depression, a truly human response should be to care, not to kill,” said Crosby. “Likewise, the response to the anguish and fear people can experience at the end of their lives is to be present to them, offering palliative care, not intentionally to cause their death.

“The need for palliative care should be one of the most pressing preoccupations of our country and its institutions,” he stressed. “This is where the energies and resources of our elected leaders should be directed. This is why we advocate making high-quality palliative care, long-term care and home care easily accessible to all Canadians.”

The bishops also took aim at the Carter decision itself.

“We cannot but express our outrage at the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada to create a new ‘constitutional right’ in Canada, the so-called ‘right’ to suicide,” said Durocher. “Nor can we suppress our profound dismay, disappointment and disagreement with the Court’s decision.

“The ruling would legalize an action that, from time immemorial, has been judged immoral: the taking of innocent life. Moreover, it puts at risk the lives of the vulnerable, the depressed, those with physical or mental illness and those with disabilities.”

The lack of debate on the issue on the campaign trail did not escape the bishops’ attention.

“We are in the midst of a federal election campaign,” said Crosby, who now begins a two-year term as conference president. “The candidates’ silence on the question of assisted suicide astonishes us.

“This question is fundamental for our society and its future. Have we relinquished the ability to debate the profound questions of life that touch us all?”

The bishops also appealed for the protection of conscience rights of all caregivers. In August, the Canadian Medical Association voted to deny doctors conscience rights when it comes to assisted suicide.

“Requiring a physician to kill a patient is always unacceptable,” said Durocher. “It is an affront to the conscience and vocation of the health-care provider to require him or her to collaborate in the intentional putting to death of a patient, even by referring the person to a colleague.

“The respect we owe our physicians in this regard must be extended to all who are engaged in health care and work in our society’s institutions,” he said.

The bishops said their views are informed by “reason, ethical dialogue, religious conviction and a profound respect for the dignity of the human person.”

“(Jesus) showed most fully what it means to love, to serve and to be present to others,” Crosby said. “His response to the suffering of others was to suffer with them, not to kill them.”

“He accepted suffering in his life as the pathway to giving, to generosity, to mercy. One does not have to be a believer to recognize in Jesus’ life and action a supreme example of humanity. The values of Jesus of Nazareth are the basis for our views on assisted suicide. Canada has nothing to fear in committing itself to these profoundly human and life-giving values.”

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