Canadian bishops sound alarm after judge strikes down euthanasia restrictions

euthanasia, assisted suicide, hospice

Canadian Catholic bishops and pro-life organizations are sounding the alarm over shrinking federal support for end-of-life palliative care after a Quebec court struck down federal restrictions on assisted suicide in September.

Although Canada has a federal framework for medical care in the country, how each province funds and implements the guidelines have led to major inconsistencies in palliative care across the country. President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), Archbishop Richard Gagnon, spoke to Grandin Media about the issue. “You can assist a person in their last days of life to die with dignity in a supportive way that respects the importance of life (with palliative care),” he said. “The very notion of euthanasia is contrary to that.” Gagnon also stated that the government has not given a lot of support for such care, and there is “a great need in Canada for more palliative care, be that of a religious nature or not.”

Several pro-life Catholic organizations — including the CCCB, Catholic Health Alliance of Canada, and the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute — have urged the government to respect the spiritual dimension of palliative care. The CCCB statement also “strongly emphasized that palliative care is not to include euthanasia or assisted suicide, or what is being called in Canada ‘Medical Assistance in Dying’ (MAid).”

READ: Euthanasia organization tells elderly they’ll have a ‘bad death’ without assisted suicide

The court’s elimination of restrictions on assisted suicide, which required patients to have a terminal diagnosis with a “reasonably foreseeable” death, could result in an increased victimization of vulnerable people, including those suffering from disabilities, severe depression, psychiatric conditions, and other non-terminal conditions. Because of this, palliative care must be a real option that gives vulnerable Canadians an obtainable alternative to assisted suicide, which some may feel is their only end-of-life option. The bishops have sought to emphasize the importance of such care, and at the parish level have begun to  develop tools to spread easy-to-understand information about what constitutes palliative care. They hope to take these initiatives to schools and health care institutions as well. 

In Canada, over one percent of all deaths result from assisted suicide. As the National Review pointed out, “This means well over 3,000 people are killed by their doctors each year in Canada, which — if my math is correct — is more than 250 a month, more than 58 a week, and more than eight per day. Heck, that’s about one every three hours.”

Assisted suicide restrictions have long been viewed as “reasonable” even by proponents of euthanasia legislation. Yet as seen in the example of The Netherlands, the legalization of assisted suicide seems inevitably to lead to a slippery slope whereby society’s most vulnerable end up as victims. What little protections that originally existed in the assisted suicide law are chipped away.

This urgency is not lost on the Canadian bishops. “We have done a lot on this issue,” said Archbishop Smith of Edmonton. “We want this to encourage [people and institutions] in the advocacy of palliative care,” he said. 

The CCCB hopes to have information “kits” on palliative care available by 2021.

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