Dr. Bill Sullivan, founding executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute and former president of the International Association of Catholic Bioethicists Photo by Michael Swan

Stay engaged, but the Supreme Court has spoken, says bioethicist on euthanasia bill

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  • April 22, 2016

TORONTO – One of Canada’s two members of the Pontifical Academy for Life – a leading bioethicist and major researcher into disability issues – is urging Catholics to engage legislators to minimize the damage of the new assisted suicide law.

At the same time, Catholics should realize that the Supreme Court has spoken and no law regulating physician assisted death in Canada will match the Catholic ideal of respect for life, he said.

“Get involved. Continue to communicate the ethical basis of our opposition,”

Dr. Bill Sullivan told a small audience of physicians, scholars and activists at the University of St. Michael’s College April 20.

The founding executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute and former president of the International Association of Catholic Bioethicists warned against trying to stop the inevitable.

“The law is not on your side. You can kind of grieve it, but accept it. We lost,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan’s advice at the CCBI-Knights of Malta event was to concentrate on strengthening whatever protections for the vulnerable may be written into the new law.

“This is a very important time, when the legislation is being debated, to get involved,” he said.

It isn’t only legislators and regulators who need to be convinced, said Sullivan.

“A lot of people, even Catholics, need education on these issues,” he said.

“We’re all affected by a culture that is death denying and idolizes youth and health and independence… It actually is part of being human to be interdependent.”

The long game for opponents of assisted suicide will be to fund and sponsor high-quality palliative care along with serious research into end-of-life and mental health issues. In particular, depression among the frail elderly is often not recognized by doctors and poorly understood among researchers, he said.

“Whenever anybody asks to be made dead, think depression,” said Sullivan. Depression is “a treatable illness at any stage of life,” he said.

The debate over assisted dying goes further than cut-and-dried issues of science, medicine and law.

“The Supreme Court is not claiming to make a moral judgment, but they are dealing with a moral issue,” Sullivan said.

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