September 28, 2015

Bishops examined their role in fighting euthanasia and assisted suicide during the annual gathering of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In his welcoming remarks to the almost 90 bishops and eparchs gathered for the Sept. 14-18 conference in Cornwall, Ont., CCCB president Paul-André Durocher said the Supreme Court of Canada's Feb. 6 decision "to strike down the articles in the Criminal Code that prohibited active euthanasia and assisted suicide is for us a deep cause of worry and concern.

The Church sees the Supreme Court decision as representing a radical shift in society's thinking to one "that disparages old age, disease and disability," Durocher said.

"We will take time to seek together how best to respond to the challenges this decision raises, not only for Christians but for all Canadian citizens."

After a presentation by Dr. Catherine Ferrier, the president of the non-religious Quebec-based Physicians' Alliance Against Euthanasia, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith stressed the bishops' role in challenging the current "cultural mindset that what is legal is thereby ethical.

"We have a role to speak now in the immediate circumstances," he said. He underlined the urgency for action, considering the long-term implications of the Supreme Court's decision.

Smith warned that even if Canada is successful in developing "highly restrictive legislation, it will not survive the inevitable charter challenges."


"Then it will be open season," said Smith, the past president of the CCCB. "As bishops, we need to speak very clearly now and underscore how morally reprehensible this situation is.

"We need to be speaking long-term and in a sustained way, to keep alive the truth that this is completely morally unacceptable."

Ferrier, a family doctor specializing in caring for the elderly, laid out possible options for the federal government following the court decision that gave a year for Parliament to draft a new law.

One option would be for the government to invoke the Charter's notwithstanding clause to suspend the court's judgment for five years, she said.

Another would be for the government to seek an extension of the one-year deadline, she said. Or there could be no legislative response, leaving a legal void, such as that on abortion after the Morgentaler decision.

Ferrier said the Canadian government is most likely to take another option, which would amend the Criminal Code to "allow the taking of human life or collaboration in suicide."


She stressed the fight over euthanasia has been not only a "political battle," but also "a culture war" that was orchestrated by a well-organized public opinion campaign.

It included a series of "galvanizing incidents" regarding high profile cases of people seeking a physician assisted death, Ferrier added.

This helped create the idea that causing a patient's death was "not only permissible but encouraged as the compassionate thing to do," she said.