Bishop Douglas Crosby

Suicide advocates carrying the debate

  • February 4, 2016

Advocates in favour of wider access to assisted suicide have dominated parliamentary committee hearings that will help craft a new assisted-suicide law, with little opposition so far from religious voices.

“It’s hard to find allies. It’s hard to find people who will acknowledge the vulnerability piece,” said Rhonda Wiebe from the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. Wiebe was speaking a day after the CCD and lawyer David Baker made the case for safeguards to protect the vulnerable. That same day, ex-Tory MP Stephen Fletcher and a representative from Dying With Dignity appeared before the Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying to argue for wide and easy access to voluntary euthanasia.

Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins was to appear before the committee on Feb. 3.

To date, the focus of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has been on a joint declaration launched last October with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. The declaration, found at, has so far garnered 10,000 signatures. It makes a strong case for more and better palliative care, but includes no specific recommendations on how to regulate the now legal practice of assisted suicide. CCCB president Bishop Douglas Crosby has asked to be allowed to address the committee but is waiting to hear if his request will be granted.

Last year the Supreme Court of Canada gave Parliament a year to come up with new laws and regulations to govern the practice of physician-assisted suicide. That deadline expired Feb. 6, though the court has given the government a four-month extension to finalize its plan. Meanwhile, assisted suicide is now legal in Quebec.

Canada’s Catholic bishops have urged Parliament to invoke the notwithstanding clause, which would set the Supreme Court’s decision aside for five years, but that is no expected to happen.

Catholic voices are much more active in trying to protect the conscience rights of doctors. The Catholic Civil Rights League has written to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to oppose the regulatory body’s policy that would require doctors who object for moral or religious reason to make “an effective referral to another health care provider.”

“A proper balancing of the rights of physicians with the concept of patient autonomy must not result in the trumping of the rights of physicians,” said the CCRL submission to the college.

Meanwhile, the leading voices for the vulnerable in Ottawa have been the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, which has strong ties to both Canada’s Catholic bishops and Evangelical leadership but claims no religious affiliation, said it has not been invited to testify in person to the committee.

“We have contacted all of the Members of Parliament on the committee. We have talked to people in charge of the committee working for the government and we’ve had no response yet,” said EPC executive director Alex Schadenberg. Schadenberg has prepared a submission which can be submitted in writing. He warns that regulation of assisted suicide in other jurisdictions fails to effectively control or monitor who is being killed and for what reason. The primary flaw is that assisted deaths are not reported until after the fact, and only by the doctor who performed or supervised the intervention.

Like the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, Schadenberg advocates that all requests for assisted suicide go to a judge. “Judges have more power to have oversight than a doctor,” he said. “If the decision is made by two doctors alone and the reporting is done after the death, obviously you have a closed-in system where you’re allowing the decision to be made behind a closed door.”

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