Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto. Photo by Michael Swan

Collins concerned about conscience protection in assisted suicide legislation

  • April 14, 2016
Cardinal Thomas Collins reacts to the Canadian government's bill on assisted suicide

With a federal bill tabled that will enshrine a legal right to voluntary euthanasia, Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins is still looking for conscience protections for individual doctors and nurses as well as for religiously affiliated healthcare institutions. 

“If they're going to do it, what we do ask is that they do not force or compel in any way either an individual or an institution to facilitate their wish against the conscience of the person or the institution,” Collins told The Catholic Register on Thursday, just hours after the government tabled its assisted suicide legislation. “We would wish that they (patients) also would not go down that path. But they will have, probably, the right to do it.”

With the Supreme Court decision favouring assisted death in place, and the federal government mandated to respond with new legislation by June 6, it will take a long time for Canada to reverse course, Collins said.

“That is a profoundly misguided (Supreme Court) decision. The only ultimate path to follow is to reverse that. That's not going to happen tomorrow. It's going to take a long time,” he said.

The newly proposed legislation leaves conscience protections up to provinces. The Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience, along with the Canadian Medical Association and the Provincial-Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying, have each recommended provinces set up centralized pathfinder agencies that would guide patients through the full range of end-of-life options, including palliative care and assisted suicide. Under such a system, nobody would be forced to directly refer a patient for euthanasia or abandon patients after they have opted for it.

Collins has endorsed the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience. He will participate in a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday which will include Muslim, Jewish and Christian opposition to euthanasia.

An effort to re-constitute a respect for life as the primary value in health care, to get back to the values of the Hippocratic Oath, is a long-term project, the cardinal said.

“What that's going to require is going to be to help people in society to appreciate the implications of this new direction,” Collins said. “That also will require a substantial effort which I think we need to be more creative and more effective in doing.”

In the meantime, the most immediate requirement is to bolster palliative care – currently only available to about 30 per cent of the Canadian population.

“Any effort made by any government, federal or provincial, to increase palliative care is much to be praised, and much to be valued,” said Collins. “The particular methods of doing it – we need to look and keep working on that. I'm very appreciative of the work of people of all different political parties and of different levels of government who are working to make palliative care more available.”

The first sign that there’s something wrong with state-sanctioned assisted suicide is the delicate dance of words around the issue, said Collins. 

“People who advocate for it are afraid to say what they're asking. So they say it's ‘medical assistance in dying,’” he said. “I find it to be illuminating that this direction must be cloaked in words that do not describe what is happening. When we do something we are proud of, we do something we are open about, we describe it in words that are clear and plain. When we have to bring the fog of words like ‘medical assistance in dying’ for what is not medical assistance in dying but rather is killing… What has happened there? Something profound has happened in terms of respect for the human person.”

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