Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith.

Bishops call for resistance to expanded assisted suicide

By  Andrew Ehrkamp, Canadian Catholic News
  • January 25, 2020

EDMONTON -- The bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories are calling on Catholics to mobilize and oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide even as the federal government looks to make it easier to qualify for a medically-induced death.

“We are absolutely opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide and we disagree vehemently with its very existence in the country,” said Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith. 

“Naturally, we would be opposed to its expansion. The longer that something is in law, the longer people can think that, because it’s legal, it’s also morally permissible. That’s a stance that we can’t allow to stand unchallenged. 

“We have a number of things in our country that might be allowed legally, that doesn’t mean that they are morally permitted.”

A pastoral letter signed by Smith and the bishops of Calgary, St. Paul, Grouard-McLennan, McKenzie-Fort Smith and the Ukrainian Eparchy of Edmonton, was shared at Masses on the Jan. 18-19 weekend.

The letter calls on all Canadians, and Catholics in particular, to press members of parliament to vote against any expansion of assisted suicide and euthanasia. It also calls on the federal government to expand palliative care and on health professionals to assert their right to refuse to participate in euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Canadians are being asked to weigh in on coming changes to the law as Ottawa seeks to amend the Criminal Code to permit greater access to a medical death. Survey responses are being accepted until Jan. 27. Approximately 200,000 people had responded to the government’s online survey as of Jan. 20, according to the justice ministry.

The Liberal government’s move to amend the law is in response to a September Quebec court decision that declared parts of the federal and Quebec laws on assisted dying unconstitutional. The court ruled that a requirement limiting assisted suicide to patients facing a “reasonably foreseeable” death violated their Charter rights. 

If no new legislation is passed by March 11, the “reasonably foreseeable” provision in the law will be suspended in Quebec. But even without that court ruling, the law was facing review this year.

The federal government reports more than 6,700 Canadians have died by a medically-induced death since assisted suicide became legal in 2016.

Current eligibility requirements say candidates must be 18 or older, able to make health decisions for themselves and “in grievous and irremediable medical condition” to qualify.

The government is seeking input on such questions as whether people should be able to make an advance request for assisted suicide while they are healthy, and if it should be granted to people under 18 years old and people with psychiatric conditions.

The survey itself is disingenuous, says Dr. Thomas Fung, a Catholic physician in Calgary. He noted the survey is steered towards removing the “reasonably foreseeable” death criteria from the law while not explicitly asking whether Canadians favour removal at all. 

“It basically was kind of like a foregone conclusion that this was going to happen,” Fung said. “It really opens the doorway for suicide on demand essentially … At some point, human suffering is a subjective experience, so it’s really hard to objectify who should qualify for MAiD when the near-death criteria is removed.”

Smith said the bishops issued their pastoral letter because of a cultural trend that not only normalizes euthanasia and assisted suicide but now favours expansion.

“It had always been up until now, a rock-solid conviction that medicine is dedicated to the preservation of life and to doing no harm,” he said. “Well, now we have … medicine being used actually prematurely to end life, which turns the medical profession on its head.”

Fung said the conscience rights of physicians who object to participating in the death of patients are also under fire.

“Really we’re seeing discrimination at every level, ” Fung said. 

“Despite Canadian Medical Association code of ethics and other provincial association guidelines to protect conscientious objectors, there is really nothing legal that is helping us to advance our case in court. We’re losing every time we go to court, and I think we’re seeing a pattern here.”

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