Dr. Catherine Ferrier addresses the Canadian bishops at their 2015 plenary. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Dr. Ferrier sees hand of God in her work against euthanasia

By 
  • June 12, 2018

OTTAWA – The recipient of the 2018 Archbishop Exner award says she “drifted” into family medicine but now she sees God’s providence in her work against euthanasia.

“I wasn’t dreaming of being a doctor since I was two years old,” said Catherine Ferrier, who was to receive the Adam Exner Award for Catholic Excellence in Public Life on June 18 from the Catholic Civil Rights League. “It just happened. I kind of fell into it.”

Ferrier is president of the Quebec-based Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia. The Montreal doctor was honoured for her contributions in advancing studies in geriatrics and for playing a leading role in organizations opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Her Catholic faith and vocation in medicine prompted Ferrier to become involved in setting up a network for Catholic doctors in Montreal about 20 years ago.

“I had never had any Catholic mentor in medicine,” she said. “I muddled myself through many situations as far as medical issues go. I thought we should have some kind of network.”

That led to the creation in 2000 of a bioethics discussion group that eventually became the Montreal Catholic Doctors’ Guild. In 2008, the Toronto-based Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute (CCBI) organized a conference for Catholic doctors in Montreal, and that resulted in the birth of the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies.

When discussions began in 2009 about future euthanasia legislation, there was already a network, both locally and nationally, to respond, Ferrier said. Along with others she launched a grassroots coalition called Vivre Dans la Dignité/Living with Dignity. 

The leader of the anti-euthanasia forces in Quebec at that time was Dr. André Bourque, the head of general medicine at CHUM, the University of Montreal’s teaching hospital. He became Living with Dignity’s president.

“A few days after Christmas in 2012, André Bourque died suddenly, and the Physicians’ Alliance landed in my lap,” Ferrier said. “He was the doctor who inspired everybody.”

Ferrier stressed that both Living with Dignity and the Physicians’ Alliance have no religious affiliation, but promote good end-of-life care.

In the fall of 2015, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) invited Ferrier to address its plenary meeting on the upcoming euthanasia law.

“We were in a difficult position after the (Supreme Court) Carter decision because we knew there would be a law that would legalize something that was unjust and immoral, so we couldn’t just sit back and let the other side craft the law,” Ferrier said. “So, we, as a non-religious organization started discussion with other allies what we were going to propose.

“We proposed very specific things,” she said. “We didn’t say don’t legalize because we didn’t have that option.”

However, she asked Canada’s bishops, “who speak to the Church and speak for the Church,” not to say, “we can allow euthanasia with these conditions, with protections for the vulnerable.”

“The bishops have to give a clear message that this is wrong,” she said. “They can’t say it’s an evil law but here are some protections, because the faithful will not get the nuances.”

Ferrier said the Quebec government had promised good palliative care access to accompany its euthanasia law, but “it’s actually worse than it was.”

“There’s a lot of turmoil in palliative care because of the euthanasia law,” she said. “A lot of people have left.”

In her work at the geriatric clinic, Ferrier says she sees “a lot of very vulnerable people and some people who are not managing well. 

“Along came euthanasia, and it put me in a position to say something about that.”

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