Bill C-14, the legislation that legalizes physician-assisted suicide, was given Royal Assent on June 17. Oppositions to the bill says they will continue to fight for conscience rights of health-care workers and efforts to widen euthanasia criteria. Photo/Pixabay

Despite assisted suicide legislation, the battle continues

  • June 21, 2016

OTTAWA – As euthanasia and assisted suicide became legal in Canada opponents vowed to continue the fight to protect conscience rights of health-care workers and Catholic institutions and to oppose inevitable court challenges to widen the net of assisted killing.

The Liberal government’s euthanasia and assisted suicide Bill C-14 received Royal Assent and became law June 17. It survived an attempt by the Senate to expand the bill to permit assisted suicide for people who are suffering but not terminally ill. Instead, under the new law assisted suicide and euthanasia will be available to competent adults over 18 who are suffering intolerably and "whose natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.”

In a statement released June 20, Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins said the advent of legalized assisted suicide signals "a loss of respect for the dignity of the human person," inevitable pressure on vulnerable people to agree to be killed and "be gone," and a new "assault upon the sanctuary of conscience" of doctors and institutions that seek only to heal, not kill.

Collins said there is some consolation that Bill C-14 includes limited safeguards for the vulnerable and some conscience protection for doctors and nurses, but warned that "in other places where euthanasia has been introduced, it has always been cloaked with 'safeguards' that lull citizens into complacency." These safeguards, he said, "gradually weaken and finally drop away, and then the full hard cold force of euthanasia is felt."

"Here is a chilling fact: despite the confidence of the Supreme Court justices that Canada is different from those jurisdictions, in only slightly more than a year since their decision (to strike down Canada's blanket ban against assisted suicide), the 'safeguards' are already under vigourous attack," Collins said.

The preamble of Bill C-14 promised further study on issues such as opening up assisted suicide to mature minors and allowing people in the early stages of diseases such as dementia to sign advanced directives for an assisted death.

Michele Boulva, director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, said Catholic lay people need to “be proactive” and “not wait until the next moves are made by those who want to widen access to euthanasia.”

“Others will be pressing for a law that is wider. We have to do the opposite," she said.

She joined Collins in underlining the importance of protecting the conscience rights of health-care professionals and institutions, and of encouraging the government to create a national network of high quality palliative care. At the same time, Boulva urged Catholics to make sure euthanasia and assisted suicide “become irrelevant because of how we care for people.”

“If we teach people to care about others, and love them when they become vulnerable, then the elderly and the disabled won’t want to be killed,” she said.

No doctor can be compelled to lethally inject a patient, but Bill C-14 was silent on the matter of referrals and on the right of institutions to opt out of assisted killing, leaving those issue to the provinces and their regulatory bodies. Phil Horgan, president of the Catholic Civil Rights League, said a court challenge has already been initiated against the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario regarding the college's requirement that doctors provide, at minimum, an effective referral for assisted death requests. 

With respect to institution rights, Horgan said the Ontario Health Minister has signalled that Catholic and Christian hospitals will not be forced to participate. 

“That’s a hopeful proposition that needs to be acknowledged across the country,” he said.

Legalizing assisted killing may make it more difficult to improve palliative care, Horgan believes. He  cited a significant difference in the availability of palliative care in the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal, and in the United Kingdom, where it is not. Making an assisted death part of the continuum of health care is “not a palliative care culture,” he said.

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