Following a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on February 6, 2015 that ruled that the ban on assisted suicide, included until now in Canada’s Criminal Code, was unconstitutional, the Canadian government has until June, 2016, to enact a law on euthanasia and assisted suicide. On February 26, 2016, a committee of members of the Canadian Parliament released a report that goes even further than what the Supreme Court suggested, that is to say, to extend the right to euthanasia to those who are not terminally ill, and even children.
Of course, no one wishes to suffer, but to kill a patient is not taking care of his health. As Christians, we know that the only moral response to end-of-life care is palliative care, which bring relief to the patient without killing him. Here are a few texts that can help us in our reflection on this issue:
On November 16, 2014, Pope Francis addressed the Association of Italian Catholic Doctors, and reminded them that abortion and euthanasia, far from being “compassionate” gestures, are sins against God the Creator. Here are excerpts from this address:
The dominant thinking sometimes suggests a “false compassion”, that which believes that it is: helpful to women to promote abortion; an act of dignity to obtain euthanasia; a scientific breakthrough to “produce” a child and to consider it to be a right rather than a gift to welcome; or to use human lives as guinea pigs presumably to save others. Instead, the compassion of the Gospel is that which accompanies in times of need, that is, the compassion of the Good Samaritan, who “sees”, “has compassion”, approaches and provides concrete help (cf. Lk 10:33).
We all know that with so many old people, in this culture of waste, there is this hidden euthanasia. But there is also the other. And this is to say to God, “No, I will accomplish the end of life, as I will.” A sin against God the Creator! Think hard about this.
The same day the Supreme Court of Canada issued its decision in favor of euthanasia and assisted suicide, Most Rev. Paul-André Durocher, Archbishop of Gatineau and then President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), wrote:
Helping someone commit suicide, however, is neither an act of justice or mercy, nor is it part of palliative care. The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada today does not change Catholic teaching. “An act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, our Creator.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2277)…
My brother Bishops and I entreat governments and courts to interpret today’s judgment in its narrowest terms, resisting any calls to go beyond this to so-called acts of “mercy killing” and euthanasia. We again call on provincial and territorial governments to ensure good-quality palliative care in all their jurisdictions.
The only moral solution:
On February 26, 2016, Most Rev. Douglas Crosby, OMI, Bishop of Hamilton and current President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote:
The Special Joint Committee of the Government of Canada on “Physician-Assisted Dying” this past February 25 released its report,Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centred Approach. The report, in part, recommends:
– That assisted suicide be available to those with psychiatric conditions (Recommendation 3)
– That psychological suffering be among the criteria making an individual eligible for assisted suicide (Recommendation 4)
– That within approximately three years assisted suicide be available for adolescents and possibly also children who can be considered “mature minors” (Recommendation 6)
– That all health-care practitioners be obliged at the minimum to provide an “effective referral” for clients seeking assisted suicide (Recommendation 10)
– That all publicly funded health-care institutions in Canada provide assisted suicide (Recommendation 11)
In addition, the report fails to show how palliative care and home care can provide true options for those tempted by suicide, nor does it call for a national plan to prevent suicides. (…)
The teaching of the Catholic Church and the stance of the Catholic Bishops of Canada are clear. Suicide is not part of health care. Killing the mentally and physically ill, whether young or aged, is contrary to caring for and loving one’s brother and sister. The dignity of the human person and the flourishing of the human community demand: 1) protection and respect for each human life from conception to natural death, and 2) freedom of conscience and religion for each person as well as each institution. Social wellbeing, personal security and the common good – together with religious faith – involve safeguarding, not endangering, the lives of those suffer.
The above recommendations and the thrust of the report completely fail to be “patient-centred” or to assist and support the dying and the vulnerable. To borrow from the words of Pope Francis, the report’s recommendations are the approach of a “throw-away” society. They do not reveal the face of God’s mercy.
Together with my brother Bishops, both Catholic and Orthodox, as well as with leaders from the Evangelical Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faith communities, and many of other faiths or of no faith, I urge you to inform your elected officials why euthanasia, assisted suicide and the above recommendations are completely unacceptable.
Several Canadian Bishop took a strong stand against euthanasia or assisted suicide; one of the best statements is from Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto who wrote, on March 1, 2016, a letter that was read in all the parishes of his diocese. Here are excerpts:
“Contemplating Suicide? We Can Help!” There was a time when such an advertisement pointed to a crisis line, where someone was standing by to counsel you and to offer hope in a situation of intolerable pain. We are in a very different time, now. In a few short months assisted suicide, its grim reality hidden behind blandly deceptive terms like “Medical Assistance in Dying”, will be declared an acceptable option in our country, enshrined in law. As the federal government prepares legislation to implement the Supreme Court’s decision, it is crucial to consider the effects of this fundamental change in our laws. (…)
Physicians across our country who have devoted their lives to healing patients will soon be asked to do the exact opposite. They will not be asked to ease their suffering by providing them with treatment and loving care, but by putting them to death. In fact, killing a patient will no longer be considered a crime, but will actually be seen as a kind of health care, complete with legislation to regulate it. (…)
End-of-life care (palliative care) is currently accessible to only 30% of Canadians. This is a tragedy, and unacceptable. Instead of providing ways to hasten death, we should be providing palliative care for every Canadian, greater support for those with mental illness, and help for those tempted to suicide.
Once we make people’s worthiness to live dependent on how well they function, our society has crossed the boundary into dangerous territory in which people are treated as objects that can be discarded as useless.
On December 8, 2015, Most Rev. Paul Lortie, Bishop of Mont-Laurier and president of the Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops, wrote a pastoral letter entitled “Approaching Death in the Company of Christ.” Here are excerpts:
To assist the dying means, first of all, to care for them. It means accompanying them, comforting them, consoling them, supporting them emotionally and spiritually, by offering them all the medical care that is humanly possible – including palliative care when the time comes, which must absolutely be available to all.
It also means being able to refrain from “over-zealous” treatments; in other words, stopping treatments that are not useful or that are disproportionate, dangerous, or too burdensome, and that are in their own way a denial of death which must come in time. Such cessation of treatment is an entirely legitimate decision which must in no way be confused with “medical aid in dying”. Stopping a treatment that serves no purpose, or “unplugging” someone who will never recover their health and who is kept alive artificially, is not euthanasia; it is, rather, simply allowing someone to die whose time has come. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (Paragraph 2278), “here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted.”
To assist the dying also means assisting them to prepare for death and for passage to eternal life, particularly with prayer on their behalf and, if they so desire, with the sacraments and prayer with them. To assist the dying is to help them to die well, by taking good care of them, and not by bringing about their death.