Cardinal Thomas Collins issued a statement to be read at Masses throughout the Toronto archdiocese March 5-6 condemning recommendations for wide-open access to assisted suicide. Photo by Michael Swan.

Cardinal steps up opposition to assisted dying

  • March 2, 2016

TORONTO - A statement from Cardinal Thomas Collins to be read in the Archdiocese of Toronto’s 225 parishes urges Catholics to oppose a “chilling” parliamentary committee report on assisted suicide that Collins said “should shock us to the core.”

In an interview, the cardinal said he hopes parishioners will write to their Members of Parliament and “even the Prime Minister if they wish” to express “deep concern” about a report that recommends assisted killing be integrated into health care and become available to terminal and nonterminal patients. The report also said doctors who oppose killing patients should be forced to refer those patients to other doctors and that hospitals that receive public funding, including Catholic institutions, should be compelled by law to provide assisted suicide and euthanasia.

“I think of those hospitals founded largely by religious sisters,” Collins said. “You can be sure they would not be killing their patients.

“It’s a real problem, this attack on people who do nothing but good. To kill patients is terrible. We must unite and express our firm resolve to oppose suppression of the conscience rights of individuals and institutions that serve us so well.”

The cardinal’s statement will be read at Masses on the March 5-6 weekend. In addition to writing to MPs, the statement endorses Coalition for HealthCare and Conscience (CanadiansForConsicence. ca), a new organization comprising several groups and more than 5,000 doctors.

The parliamentary report, titled “Medical Assistance in Dying: A patient-centred approach,” was released Feb. 25 by the special joint Parliamentary Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying. It recommends legislation that goes much further than what the Supreme Court ruled last year when it struck down Canada’s blanket ban on assisted suicide. In addition to recommending minimum safeguards and reporting, the committee proposes that assisted suicide eventually be available to minors under 18, to psychiatric patients and that people be given an advance- directive option to allow them to schedule their euthanasia for a future date when they may cease to be competent.

The report will guide the Liberals as they prepare legislation on assisted suicide that, to meet a Supreme Court deadline, must be passed by June 6.

Collins joined many other bishops and other groups who have condemned the report.

“Killing the mentally and physically ill, whether young or aged, is contrary to caring for and loving one’s brother and sister,” said a pastoral letter from Hamilton Bishop Douglas Crosby, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Crosby also urged Catholics to tell MPs that the recommendations are “completely unacceptable.” “Canadians, especially those dying or suffering from illness, deserve better,” said Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller. “It’s alarming how easily suicide is being offered and respect for life eroded.”

Collins calls himself “a man at full tilt” who will be travelling to Ottawa to meet with groups of all faiths to oppose the parliamentary report. In addition to the substance of the recommendations, he says people should be wary of the “false language” that tries to portray killing as part of the continuum of health care.

“We should retire from service any language that hides grim realities under a cloak of deception,” he said. “An example of the deadly use of phony language is the very title of the report. I encourage people to call killing killing and not to use terms that hide what it really means.”

Collins said that instead of laws to hasten death, Parliament should be expanding palliative care and treatment for the mentally ill and providing enhanced suicide-prevention services.

“It’s incredible that we have come to this,” he said. “I encourage people to dispel illusions and see reality. If people see this reality and it sinks in, they will be appalled.”

The full statement by Cardinal Collins can be read on Page 4.

(With files from Deborah Gyapong.)


On Feb. 29 Cardinal Thomas Collins issued a statement in response to a parliamentary committee report on assisted suicide and euthanasia that was to be read at weekend Masses March 5-6 in the 225 parishes of the Archdiocese of Toronto. The statement also included a call for concerned Catholics to contact their Member of Parliament. Below is the full text of that statement.

“I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel…”
The Hippocratic Oath “You shall not kill.”
Exodus 20:13

“Contemplating Suicide? We Can Help!” There was a time when such an advertisement pointed to a crisis line, where someone was standing by to counsel you and to offer hope in a situation of intolerable pain. We are in a very different time now. In a few short months assisted suicide, its grim reality hidden behind blandly deceptive terms like “Medical Assistance in Dying,” will be declared an acceptable option in our country, enshrined in law. As the federal government prepares legislation to implement the Supreme Court’s decision, it is crucial to consider the effects of this fundamental change in our laws.

Death comes to us all, sometimes suddenly, and sometimes slowly. Although patients benefit from medication that controls pain, they are fully justified in refusing burdensome and disproportionate treatment that serves only to prolong the inevitable process of dying. But dying is simply not the same as being killed. We are grateful for physicians and nurses and others who offer medical assistance to patients who are dying, but it is never justified for them to kill a patient.

Physicians across our country who have devoted their lives to healing patients will soon be asked to do the exact opposite. They will not be asked to ease their suffering by providing them with treatment and loving care, but by putting them to death. In fact, killing a patient will no longer be considered a crime, but will actually be seen as a kind of health care, complete with legislation to regulate it.

On February 25, 2016, a parliamentary committee presented the lawmakers who will craft this disturbing legislation with 21 recommendations. They should shock us to the core, especially if we believe, complacently and incorrectly, that the change in the law will affect only a few people with grave physical illness, who have lived a long life, and are near death. In fact, the recommendations include:

• A desire to allow, beginning in three years, access to euthanasia/ assisted suicide for minors (those under 18).

• The ability for those diagnosed with conditions like dementia to pre-schedule their deaths.

• Insistence that those with psychiatric conditions be eligible for euthanasia/assisted suicide.

• A requirement that any institution receiving public funding, including Catholic hospitals, long-term care facilities and hospices, provide euthanasia/ assisted suicide, thus forcing them to repudiate the very principles that are the foundation of their immense service to us all.

• A requirement that doctors who refuse to kill a patient must make sure that someone else does it. No other country in the world requires such a violation of conscience.

It is unjust to force people to act against their conscience in order to be allowed to practice as a physician or, in the case of a health care facility, in order to qualify for government funding. It is not tolerant of religious diversity. It is religious discrimination that punishes those who so faithfully serve everyone who comes to them, and have done so since before Canada existed but who, in good conscience, cannot perform some procedures, such as helping to kill their patients.

When the state goes beyond its legitimate but limited role, and suppresses conscience rights in this way, I am reminded of a man whose employer told him to do something against his conscience. He courageously replied: “You employ me; you don’t own me.” End-of-life care (palliative care) is currently accessible to only 30% of Canadians. This is a tragedy, and unacceptable. Instead of providing ways to hasten death, we should be providing palliative care for every Canadian, greater support for those with mental illness, and help for those tempted to suicide.

Some people become convinced that, at a certain point, there is no longer any “value” in their life, since they cannot function as they once did. Their concern deserves our compassionate respect, but it is a shaky foundation for social policy. Our value as people comes not from what we can do, but from who we are. It comes from within, from our inherent dignity as human beings. Once we make people’s worthiness to live dependent on how well they function, our society has crossed the boundary into dangerous territory in which people are treated as objects that can be discarded as useless.

Mindful of the inherent dignity of each person, it is time for families across the country to have a difficult but necessary conversation about the reality of death. We need to understand the destructive implications of these legal changes, and offer truly loving and merciful alternatives. And Christians should be guided by these words of Jesus, that for 2,000 years have inspired heroic acts of loving service: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

Cardinal Thomas Collins February 29, 2016

Those people who are concerned about this legislation are encouraged to visit CanadiansforConscience. ca and join the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience. The coalition is made up of numerous partners, including more than 5,000 Canadian doctors, and has been formed to educate and engage those who share our concerns.

You can use this web site to write directly to your Member of Parliament, respectfully expressing your concerns. Please urge your elected representative: 1) to protect the vulnerable and 2) to ensure that individuals and institutions can provide health care without having to compromise their moral convictions.

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