Archbishop Richard Gagnon. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Canadian bishops rally support for palliative care

  • April 15, 2021

Canada’s bishops are calling on Catholics to continue to push back against the “culture of death” even as efforts to block the expansion of euthanasia in Canada have so far failed.

In a special “message to the faithful” released April 8, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) said it wants to “engage our Catholic faithful on a subject of crucial importance to all of us” and reiterated the Catholic Church’s support for palliative care being more widely available as the moral way to help Canadians who are nearing death.

It also condemned the country’s new assisted suicide law, saying the possible pressures it will place on Canadians with mental illness or disabilities are “all too real, perilous and potentially destructive.”

Canada’s Senate approved Bill C-7 on March 17, days after it was passed by the House of Commons. The new law expands access to assisted suicide to those whose death is not “reasonably foreseeable,” including the mentally ill, although that provision won’t be enshrined in law for two years to allow a review to establish protocols and safeguards. The new law also allows people to make advance requests for euthanasia if they fear losing the ability to make that decision later in life.

The CCCB called on people of faith to pray and to lobby elected officials about the issue.

“Our position remains unequivocal. Euthanasia and assisted suicide constitute the deliberate killing of human life in violation of God’s Commandments; they erode our shared dignity by failing to see, to accept and accompany those suffering and dying,” said the CCCB message that was signed by CCCB president Richard Gagnon, who is also Archbishop of Winnipeg.

The message added that Catholics and the Catholic Church have a “fundamental duty” that includes taking care “of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society.”

“Human life must be protected from conception to natural death, at all stages and in all conditions. In the new and challenging situation we now face, we truly wish to acknowledge and support all those individuals and communities who continue to defend life by resisting euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada, or by promoting life through the care of family, friends and loved ones in their suffering, or in attending to the sick and dying as a dedicated health care worker or as a compassionate volunteer,” the CCCB said in its message.

“We urge you, as men and women of faith, not to lose heart,” the message continued. “As bishops, we will accompany you in prayer and vigilant advocacy against a ‘culture of death’ which continues to erode the dignity of human life in our country.”

Focusing on palliative care in a meaningful way as an accessible option for all Canadians who are nearing death should be the focus of public policy, the CCCB said.

“The experiences of families and health-care professionals have shown us that palliative care is beneficial for a patient’s physical, emotional and spiritual condition, especially when provided early on,” the CCCB said.

The bishops called for rapid access to mental health care, social support and suicide prevention programs for people who have chronic or degenerative diseases, live alone or live in long-term care facilities.

“Palliative care, and not euthanasia or assisted suicide, is the compassionate and supportive response to suffering and dying,” the CCCB’s message said. “At this point, it is important to become informed, to renew our involvement wherever we live, and to partner with members of our parish or other faith groups and organizations to continue lobbying our elected officials about these matters.”

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