Canadian Catholics ponder future of suicide on demand

Cardinal Thomas Collins says assisted suicide has its deepest roots in spiritual coldness.

CNS PHOTO | LAWRENCE LOOI, EPA

Cardinal Thomas Collins says assisted suicide has its deepest roots in spiritual coldness.

June 27, 2016
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal in Canada, but opponents vow to fight on a number of fronts in hopes, ultimately, of seeing Canadian society reverse its position.

In a June 20 statement, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto said the Supreme Court and Parliament have "sent our country down a path that leads not simply, and obviously, towards physical death for an increasing number of fellow citizens, but towards a grim experience for everyone in our society of the coldness of spiritual death.

"That death is found in a loss of respect for the dignity of the human person, in a deadening pressure upon the vulnerable to be gone, and in an assault upon the sanctuary of conscience to be suffered by good individuals and institutions who seek only to heal," Collins said.

He said the deepest roots of this "malign development" are spiritual. Prayer and penance will be one way to address them.

Canadian society has "lost the fundamental ability to distinguish between dying and being killed," he said. The loss of that ability will have "dire implications for every aspect of our life together."

Society should reflect at length on those implications, he said. "We all need to recognize the profound significance of that distinction."

Michele Boulva, director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, said Catholics have work to do in educating future generations on why euthanasia and assisted suicide are "wrong, morally and spiritually."

"Education is number one, to address the confusion that is still there," she said.

At the same time, Boulva urged Catholics to make sure euthanasia and assisted suicide "become irrelevant because of how we care for people."

"We have to be like the first Christians, so people will say of us, 'See how they love each other,'" she said.

"If we teach people to care about others and love them when they become vulnerable, then the elderly and the disabled won't want to be killed," she said.

CONSCIENCE RIGHTS

Both Collins and Boulva stressed the importance of fighting to protect the conscience rights of health care professionals and institutions and of promoting good palliative care.

Phil Horgan, president of the Catholic Civil Rights League, said strengthening palliative care may prove difficult now that assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal.

Horgan cited a vast difference in the number of palliative care specialists and available beds in the Netherlands where euthanasia is legal, and the United Kingdom, where it is not.

If Canadians are euthanized at the same rate as Belgians, there could be between 8,000 to 12,000 euthanasia deaths a year here, he warned. Making an "assisted death" part of the continuum of health care is "not a palliative care culture."

But an even bigger adverse effect will be the way the new law will have an "educative effect" on the population, Horgan said. In the bill, "there wasn't enough attention paid to the ideation of suicide, which is a mental health problem.

"Now that we've introduced suicide relativism, you're going to run into the problem of suicide attraction," he said. "If 'it's okay for grandma,' we're not actually addressing the real issue of the absence of moral reasoning in our civic discourse."

The supremacy of God and the rule of law have been discarded in favour of personal autonomy "even to the extent of requiring the state and or a third party medical practitioner to assist you in your choice of early death," he said.

CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGE

Hugh Scher, legal counsel for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, anticipates a constitutional challenge will come soon that seeks to remove the requirement that death be "reasonably foreseeable" before a patient can obtain euthanasia or assisted suicide.

"We'll see how the courts deal with that and the amount of deference the courts are willing to pay to Parliament on such a complex social policy issue," he said.

Some will want to broaden access to euthanasia, others will want to keep it the way it is, and still others will "want it done away with altogether, for the Supreme Court decision to be overturned," he said.

The preamble of Bill C-14 noted there would be further study on issues such as advanced directives and access for mature minors. Scher said he expected, as in many "social policy evolutions," the changes will be "incremental."

Collins also warned against taking any reassurance in the fact "the law could be worse." He noted in jurisdictions where euthanasia is legal, "it has always been cloaked with 'safeguards' that lull the citizens into complacency."

"Over the years those 'safeguards' finally drop away, and then the full hard cold force of euthanasia is felt," the cardinal said.

"Here is a chilling fact: despite the confidence of the Supreme Court justices that Canada is different from those jurisdictions, in only slightly more than a year since their decision, the 'safeguards' are already under vigorous attack."