Michele Boulva

Michele Boulva

February 23, 2015

Disappointment, sadness and calls to invoke the notwithstanding clause greeted the Supreme Court of Canada's Feb. 6 decision striking down laws against physician-assisted suicide.

"Catholics are called by their faith to assist all those in need, particularly the poor, the suffering and the dying," said Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Comforting the dying and accompanying them in love and solidarity has been considered by the Church since its beginning a principal expression of Christian mercy," Durocher said.

"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."

Michele Boulva, executive director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, called it "an extraordinarily sad day in the history of our country.

"As Christians we know this goes against God's law: 'Thou shalt not kill.' In the decision, the Supreme Court is giving some of us permission to kill. We cannot overstate the gravity of the situation."

REAL Women of Canada objected to the court overruling its own 1993 decision which upheld the same provisions of the Criminal Code that it overturned Feb. 6.

"Today's decision on physician-assisted suicide is obviously not based on law and precedent, but is based on the personal opinion of the Supreme Court Judges," REAL Women said.

The Catholic Civil Rights League noted that since the 1993 Supreme Court ruling, Parliament has six times voted against attempts to change the law prohibiting assisted suicide.

"In fact, in 2011 and in 2012 Parliament gave its near unanimous support for a national anti-suicide prevention policy. The Supreme Court has now undercut such legislative enactments."

The league urged Parliament to seriously consider implementing the notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms "to allow further time for serious reflection on the merits of what has been introduced as a new regime in Canada."

The Campaign Life Coalition also urged the federal government of Canada to invoke the notwithstanding clause.

Johanne Brownrigg, public relations officer for Campaign Life, said while Canadians are afraid of dying a painful death, killing a person is not the solution to suffering.

Rather, there are ought to be "proper pain management and proper support from the medical system, family and friends," Brownrigg said.

Taylor Hyatt, media representative for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said she expected that if the Supreme Court made a change in the law, it would only affect people with terminal illnesses or who are at the end of their lives.

"Instead, it was specified that people with disabilities who believe their conditions to be non-terminal and insufferable could request assistance in ending their life," said Hyatt, who has cerebral palsy. "That means me."

Able-bodied people have suicide prevention campaigns, she said. "The perception of a disabled life is apparently so negative it is recommended in this decision that the disabled population seek this out and end their lives."

The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada referred to studies that show safeguards have not effectively limited the risk in jurisdictions physician-assisted suicide and/or euthanasia are legal.

"A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that 32 per cent of euthanasia deaths in Belgium happened without the express request of the patient."

The institute cited three other jurisdictions where there have been sharp increases in the number of assisted suicide deaths – Oregon, Washington State and the Netherlands.


"The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada sees no evidence to believe 'suicide creep' won't also happen in Canada," it said.

IMFC warned of other side effects that will harm families. "What has been promoted as an individual right will have profound family and community effects."

McGill University bioethicist Margaret Somerville said that when Canada's abortion law was liberalized, legislators believed it would "only be used in rare cases" and that there would be "very few abortions."

"After the law was struck down in 1988 in Morgentaler, I'm certain nobody expected there would be over 100,000 abortions a year in Canada, or that between one in three and one in four pregnancies would end in abortion," she said.

Somerville has repeatedly warned that just as abortion has become the norm, the same could happen with euthanasia.