Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins joined faith leaders from the evangelical, Jewish and Muslim traditions April 19 to make a call for conscience rights in the assisted-dying legislation Bill C-14. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Faith leaders plea for conscience protection for health care workers

  • April 19, 2016

OTTAWA – Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders have joined together to appeal for the protection of conscience rights for health professionals and institutions in Canada’s new assisted-death bill.

“We stand together today, leaders within our respective faith communities — Jewish, Muslim and Christian — to express our grave concern over the decriminalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia,” said Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) president Bruce Clemenger at an April 19 news conference. “We believe that any action intended to end human life is morally and ethically wrong.”

Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins, representing both the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience, pointed out faith-based communities “established havens of hope” to serve suffering and sick people. For his faith tradition alone, the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada represents 110 facilities with almost 18,000 beds and 60,000 staff.

“Whether it is the outstanding work of the Salvation Army, the Jewish community or many other faiths, we would be a much colder, harsher country were faith communities not serving on the frontlines of care and outreach,” he said. “We ask, simply, for the same protection that has been provided to these facilities in every foreign jurisdiction in the world that has legalized euthanasia/assisted suicide; that is, never to force hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and other care facilities to go against their mission and values, which are their institutional conscience.

“These facilities are committed to caring for people, to journeying with patients and being with them till their final moments. What we object to is taking their life,” he said. “It is important to note that no health care facility in Canada makes every procedure available to its patients. It is not practical, fiscally responsible or prudent to do so.”

Rabbi Dr. Reuven Bulka of the Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa made an appeal for the individual conscience rights of medical professionals. He warned forcing doctors to kill their patients or to be complicit in their killing by referring them for euthanasia “is to turn the world of medical practice upside down.”

“Additionally, we need to be sure that in all instances of such principled objection, the physician, nurse, pharmacist or any other social or health care professional who refuses to take part in such action is not in any way be discriminated against,” Bulka said. “Whatever protocols are adopted in the wake of the impending legislation must build in rock-solid protections to prevent this from happening.”

Commissioner Susan McMillan, territorial commander for the Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda, made a plea for palliative care, noting only 30 per cent of Canadians have access to end-of-life care that “cares about” patients as well as for them.

“If there is a lack of quality palliative care available, then we can’t expect people to make a truly informed choice about how to respond to their health care needs,” she said.

Imam Sikander Hashmi of the Canadian Council of Imams said while he could understand why those suffering at end of life might want to end their lives, the response should be prayer and “providing the best possible care.”

He warned “opening the door to death as an acceptable option for relief sends a deeply troubling message to those living on the margins of our society,” whether those with terminal illness, physical disability or psychiatric illness who “deserve to be embraced and welcomed as cherished members of society.”

“Support for euthanasia and assisted suicide does the exact opposite. It sends the terrible message that sometimes, life is just not worth living,” he said.

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