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Canadian bishops working on palliative care resources for every parish

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  • October 3, 2018

CORNWALL – Canada’s Catholic bishops aim to have palliative care resources available in every parish to help Catholics grapple with suffering and dying under a regime of legal euthanasia.

The plan is to have the resource kits, including professionally-made videos, available across the country by 2020, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith told the more than 80 bishops at the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) annual plenary Sept. 25.

Smith, co-chair of the CCCB’s palliative care committee, said the kit aims to answer questions concerning the fear of death, the fear of suffering, the fear of confusion and the unknown, and the fear of being alone.  The “ultimate goal is to educate, support and empower our parishioners,” said Smith, and “be the hands of Jesus in the community” when it comes to accompanying the suffering and dying and to advocating for good palliative care.

The committee has a rough draft of a parish resource kit, but the proposed parish-based educational resource needs to be tested and tweaked, he said.

The CCCB formed the palliative care committee in 2015 to respond when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide earlier that year. Later that year, Canada passed legislation legalizing so-called Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD).

Canada’s bishops agreed in 2015 to oppose the court ruling, to advocate for conscience rights and to promote palliative care.

Smith noted the government is looking at expanding access to euthanasia to minors under 18 and to those with advanced directives and those with mental illness but no other physical illness making death foreseeable.  The report of a committee looking into this is expected in December.

The Committee has allied with the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, Dominican University College, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada, the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute of Canada and the non-religious palliative care organization Pallium Canada to develop resources that tackle the theological, moral, ethical and practical issues surrounding dying, suffering and palliative care.

“The committee felt it would be important to have a clearer sense of questions people in our parishes have on end-of-life issues,” Smith said.  It coordinated three parish-based focus groups in Ottawa to “ascertain the knowledge” of Catholics on end-of-life issues. 

Bonnie Tompkins of Pallium Canada told the plenary that assisted suicide has created a great deal of confusion among Catholics when it comes to the appropriateness of such things as withdrawing treatment at end of life, or withdrawing hydration and nutrition.

“It is important to share the facts of MAiD as part of the education,” Tompkins said.

Participants took a survey, which 80 per cent answered correctly.  Most incorrect answers were due to lack of knowledge and not confusion, pointing to a need for education on palliative care, she said.

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