Dr. Moira McQueen

Dr. Moira McQueen

November 23, 2015

It was standing room only at the Archdiocese of Edmonton's recent Life and Death seminar on euthanasia and assisted suicide. More than 150 people attended the Nov. 4 event at Providence Renewal Centre.

The evening featured talks from two of Canada's foremost Catholic speakers on euthanasia and assisted suicide: Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, and Dr. Moira McQueen of the Catholic Bioethics Institute.

In February, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law prohibiting assisted suicide in Canada, ruling that Canadians with unbearable and irremediable suffering could be eligible to end their lives with a doctor's help.

McQueen, who spoke on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide from a Catholic perspective, said both are intrinsically wrong and could never be justified in any circumstances.

In jurisdictions where euthanasia and physician-assisted death have been legalized, the most vulnerable people in society are being exposed, safeguards have more or less been eroded, and the number of people dying from euthanasia is increasing rapidly due to abuse of the laws and a "culture of acceptance."

"We all need to develop a very critical eye and recognize that we are very similar to other jurisdictions, and this could happen here," said McQueen.

The change the Supreme Court is saying should happen has made many people more alert to what is going on in this country and the abuses taking place around the world, she said.

Schadenberg cited a number of cases in jurisdictions where the laws have permitted people who were not physically ill to die by euthanasia or assisted suicide for psychiatric and psychological reasons and disabilities such as blindness.

One recent study done by a psychiatrist in Belgium on their first 100 requests for euthanasia for psychiatric reasons, found of the 57 who went through the process, 48 were approved, and 13 were autistic. Fifty-eight per cent were depressed.

Recent data also showed that 4.6 per cent of overall deaths in Belgium were caused by euthanasia and 1.7 per cent of deaths were hastened without request, said Schadenberg.

The majority of the patients were in hospital and aged 80 or older. Most were incompetent due to dementia or a coma.


Euthanasia law has also been extended to young people and children in Belgium. Places like the Netherlands and Belgium have basic safeguards or rules that must be met before carrying out the procedure, such as the requirement that two doctors must agree that the patient is eligible to die by euthanasia or assisted suicide.

This safeguard has resulted in "doctor shopping," said Schadenberg.

In the case of a patient in Oregon diagnosed with cancer, the woman did not want treatment but wanted to die and requested assisted suicide.

Her doctor did not believe in assisted suicide and, because there is nothing in Oregon law telling the doctor he had to refer her, he suggested she come back the next week for assessment.

She agreed to treatment and went into remission. She is alive today because the doctor was not forced to refer her, said Schadenberg.

McQueen said the requirement to refer a patient is a challenge to the conscience rights of Canadian doctors.

While they have been told they will not have to perform the procedure, they will have to refer, which can be considered "cooperation in evil," said McQueen.

The top reasons people seek out physician-assisted suicide include loss of autonomy, loss of dignity, being a burden and loss of control of body function, said McQueen.


The slogan of a group in the United Kingdom, "Care not killing," sums up the solution, she said.

"The compassionate choice is care, not killing," she said. Catholics are called to do more to help people in vulnerable situations feel that their lives are worth living.

Steven Defer, coordinator of the Office of Life and Family, said the diocese plans to run education and conversation programs on the topic throughout the Year of Mercy.


"The goal of the diocese is to convey what these realities are but more importantly, to remind ourselves of the dignity and beauty of every life that sits in our pews, every life that is a part of your family, every person in your community," said Defer.

Defer said he hopes every family has a serious conversation about what the end of life looks like for their loved ones and that they learn about the pressures the most vulnerable people might face.

His dream, despite what is ruled, is to render the whole conversation irrelevant. "I would not want anyone in my family to be in a position to say I'm doing this because no one said 'I love you' this morning," he said.