Fr. Raymond Gravel, the one-time Bloc Quebecois MP

Obvious to all but Fr. Gravel

By 
  • April 24, 2012

Quebec’s euthanasia debate must be getting horribly confusing when even a Catholic priest doesn’t know the right answer to whether the practice should be legalized.

It must be doubly so when the priest is also a former MP who knows — or should know — that euthanasia can be made legal only by amending the federal Criminal Code.

Yet here was Fr. Raymond Gravel, the one-time Bloc Quebecois MP for a Montreal-area riding, musing about whether killing the elderly, the weak and the suffering might be just what the doctor ordered for Quebec’s health care system.

In an Easter season meditation published by a local newspaper in his diocese, and later re-printed in Montreal’s major French language paper La Presse, Gravel calls for “reflection” on medicalized killing following the mid-March report of the National Assembly’s Select Committee on Dying With Dignity.

The committee recommended opening the door to doctor-abetted killing in Quebec hospitals — even if that means flouting federal laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide. It seeks to slip past federal criminal law by treating euthanasia as a matter governed by provincial jurisdiction over health care and the administration of justice. Oh, yes, and euthanasia would no longer be called euthanasia. It would be called “medical aid in dying.”

Change language. Change morality. Change reality. Welcome to post-modernity.

To date, Premier Jean Charest’s cabinet has not responded to the report. With a spring election increasingly likely, his Liberal government will almost certainly remain mum. That does not mean the recommendations, or the report itself, will disappear. Liberal members of the National Assembly were on the Select Committee and signed off on it. Worse, support for medical homicide is so fervent within the Parti Quebecois that, if it is elected, Quebec hospitals are all but guaranteed to begin deliberately killing “qualified” patients by mid-2013.

To their credit, Quebec’s assembly of Catholic bishops have issued a tart statement criticizing the jiggery-pokery politics of the report and affirming that euthanasia, by any imaginary name, remains morally repugnant. Mere days later, however, Gravel could not resist the urge to publicly declare himself “impressed” by the Select Committee report.

He was coy about whether he personally supports euthanasia. After some desultory spiritualism on life’s “passages,” he took cover behind a screen of rhetorical questions. To wit: “In a case where the passing (of a suffering person) is protracted, can we and must we help (the sufferer) to pass on?”

For all Catholics, including ruminating priests, there is obviously but one answer. No. The Catechism of the Catholic Church could not be clearer. It calls euthanasia “morally unacceptable” and “a murderous act” always to be “forbidden and excluded.”

Indeed, for Catholics, the answer to Gravel’s question is so obvious and emphatic that, by merely raising the question, he suggests four possibilities, either: a) there is some part of “murderous act” that Gravel does not understand; b) he is a cleric so deeply confused that he can imagine reflective pastoral wiggle- room between “forbidden” and “excluded”; c) he has another agenda entirely; or d) all of the above.

Those who choose “d” are most likely critics of Gravel’s lengthy history of publicly disputing Church doctrine. The Quebec media has, over the years, ruthlessly exploited his willingness to be their dollar-a-holler Catholic dissenter. Given his political popularity as an MP, many Quebecers obviously applaud his outspokenness in baiting the Church hierarchy. Others, however, consider him a sad, rebarbative figure who is craving constant attention.

Yet Gravel, an intelligent, articulate but apparently distracted man, is merely a tragic symptom of a much deeper confusion that the euthanasia debate has revealed in Quebec. This is a province not just in moral crisis but teetering on moral collapse. Perhaps even teetering is too optimistic a word. 

For two generations, with increasing manic morbidity, Quebecers have been in the vanguard of those chasing the chimera of progressivism down ever darker, more dangerous and de-humanizing paths. It has reached the point where, in a few months, the weak, the ill and the vulnerable could be at heightened risk of homicide in state-run hospitals, under the tangled pretext of medical aid.

And even a Catholic priest, to whom we once looked for right answers, can do nothing but play a silly game of 20 questions.

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