Dr. Moira McQueen

Priests given tools to aid in end-of-life care

  • November 17, 2023

Archbishop Francis Leo and over 300 pastors of the Toronto archdiocese have taken another step in learning about compassionate palliative and end-of-life care.

The archbishop and his priests completed the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Horizons of Hope program during the recent annual priests’ seminar.

Horizons of Hope passes on knowledge on providing compassionate palliative and end-of-life care to loved ones.

Dr. Moira McQueen, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, and Sr. Mary Rowell of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada walked the priests — split into two groups of 150 — through the four-session program.

“It covers everything about dying and death,” said McQueen. “The main emphasis is really about preparing Catholics for those issues, but also these days with MAiD (medical assistance in dying), to give people a better understanding of what that is. It also provides a better understanding of palliative care, not just from a Catholic teaching point of view but also from a practical point of view. What (care options) are available, and what is available in the community.

“Underlying that is the idea of accompaniment. It is not a new idea because so many of us have already cared for our parents and other people in the last days of their lives, but there is a new emphasis on this being something we can do. It has a double function of not just caring for people, but also trying to ensure they are not lonely or isolated so they feel like MAiD would be better than living the way they do,” added McQueen.

Before his retirement, former Archbishop of Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins partnered with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto to expand awareness of Horizons of Hope throughout Ontario. Last year, about 15 parishes participated in a pilot launch. One year later, with more than 300 priests learning the program, it can now conceivably be taught in hundreds of Catholic parishes in Canada’s most populous diocese. 

Fr. Xavier De Pinto, pastor of Precious Blood Parish in Scarborough, said McQueen and Rowell “made this online program feel real for us,” and it was valuable to “hear what their ideas were as they helped write the modules.”

De Pinto said concepts, especially the terminology taught in Horizons of Hope, help interested Catholics dialogue about this issue in the public square.

“It gives us some language, and we need to be out there as, unfortunately, the government of the day is railroading everything,” said De Pinto.

“It’s terrible. A lot of the terms that came up like, ‘from womb to the tomb’ — that is what we believe as Christians. You hear ‘do not resuscitate’ a lot when you go to a hospital. Well, this Horizons of Hope uses ‘A.N.D.’, which (stands for) ‘Allow Natural Death.’ (Catholics) built the hospitals, and we are the ones who consider the dignity of the person. We cannot lose sight of that.”

McQueen has already heard of priests who launched Horizons of Hope in their parishes in November. The hope is that hundreds of additional Catholics becoming more astute about palliative care and end-of-life accompaniment can help sway assisted suicide supporters or individuals unsure of their stance into becoming champions of life who rally behind their loved ones before they depart from Earth.

“Somebody else at some point during the program said, ‘death isn’t a medical event, it is a social event,’ ” said McQueen. “While that can sound kind of strange, it’s true. That is when families gather, and people rally around. It is very natural. That is what we do as human beings.

“I still think, personally, that a culture of life where we try to support each other becomes more natural than ‘we’ll just have a lethal injection and put an end to all
this.’ ”

The Horizons of Hope toolkit is available at cccb.ca.

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