Archbishop Richard Smith says the Supreme Court ruling has put vulnerable people at risk of 'state-sponsored suicide.'

WCR FILE PHOTO

Archbishop Richard Smith says the Supreme Court ruling has put vulnerable people at risk of 'state-sponsored suicide.'

February 23, 2015
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

The Supreme Court decision legalizing assisted suicide in Canada is a repeat of the original sin in which men and women believed they can be like gods, says Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve "surrendered to the lie" that they could be "something other than what they were created to be," Smith said in a Feb. 12 interview.

"God is eclipsed and his supremacy and sovereignty is replaced with that of the individual," the archbishop said.

That human decision in Eden has been the root of all sin and disharmony in the world ever since, he said.

Likewise, in the Supreme Court decision, humans have presumed to be the arbiters of good and evil, and of life itself, Smith said.

That decision will have terrible ripple effects that will place a large number of vulnerable people at the risk of "state-sponsored suicide," he said.

In a Feb. 6 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that adults who are mentally competent and who suffer intolerably and permanently should have the right to a doctor's assistance if they wish to take their own lives.

Such suffering can be either physical or psychological.

The court gave federal and provincial governments a year to craft legislation and regulations should they choose. In the meantime the Criminal Code provision remains in effect.

The court said the law against assisted suicide is cruel and added that it harms those who suffer terribly and unchangingly.

It ruled the Criminal Code provisions unjustifiably infringe on section seven of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which protects the right to life, liberty and security of the person.

"The right to life is engaged where the law or state action imposes death or an increased risk of death on a person, either directly or indirectly," the court said.

It maintained that the current law represents a threat to human life because it actually forces some people "to take their own lives prematurely."

People are forced to kill themselves, the court ruled, because they "fear that they would be incapable of doing so when they reached the point where suffering was intolerable."

The court's ruling did not cite instances or evidence that such suicides have taken place.

"The rights to liberty and security of the person, which deal with concerns about autonomy and quality of life, are also engaged," the decision said.

Smith said the court ruling raises "very, very troubling questions about the basis of law."

Law ought to be founded upon timeless moral norms which transcend humanity and to which we ought to conform our actions, he said. Instead, the court based its decision on "the shifting sands of changing social consensus."

The court also based its ruling on a "false and incomplete" understanding of the nature of the human person, he said. It maintains that the human person is "an entirely autonomous self."

This understanding has no basis in reality, the archbishop argued. "Our autonomy is always conditioned by our relationships and by our responsibilities."

The court ruling also assumed that human dignity is something flexible and fluid, he said. "No! Dignity is inherent regardless of circumstances."

Smith said he learned of the court ruling the day he was returning from a priest friend's funeral in Halifax.

The friend, who was 92, had suffered from Parkinson's disease for many years, gradually losing the ability to function. Toward the end, he spent his days sitting in a chair, unable to do anything, even talk, the archbishop said.

"What I saw in that man, with the way that he accepted the suffering and offered it to God, was a remarkable dignity and nobility. What I also saw was an acknowledgement that God alone is the arbiter of life."

At the end of his life, the priest was praying that God would take him home, Smith said. "That prayer was an acknowledgement that God, at every moment of our existence and at every moment of difficulty, is worthy of our trust."

TOTAL DEPENDENCE

The archbishop said that in his years as a priest and bishop, he has met numerous people who suffered in advanced stages of diseases, totally dependent on others and unable to help themselves in any way.

"What the decision of the Supreme Court says is that these people are totally lacking in dignity because they have lost all sense of control."

But who is in full control of the circumstances of their life? he asked. By the reasoning of the Supreme Court, most of the human race lacks dignity.

Further, he said, the court ruling contradicts how society has always reacted to suicide, seeking to prevent it whenever possible. Now, presumably society will continue to try to prevent suicide in one class of people while telling another class of people, "Go ahead! In fact, we'll help you."

Smith said Parliament, which has been called to legislate on the issue within the next year, should try to limit the harm done by the Supreme Court as much as possible.

"I would like Parliament to claim its proper role in society. Parliament, not an activist, judicial court, should be the arbiter of laws."

PALLIATIVE CARE

Legislators should also increase access to quality palliative care, he said, "The more people realize that they can be cared for, loved and accompanied, that pain can be alleviated at every moment of their lives, and that their life has profound meaning, that will progressively remove the need in people's minds for assisted suicide."

Moreover, society and the Church need to give witness to the beauty and dignity of life in all its stages, he said. That means seeking out the lonely, the vulnerable and the sick.

"It means standing with the weak and the suffering, and by our love and our companionship, helping them to appreciate that their lives are never a burden, but always a gift."