Panelists Mark Pickup, Dr. Magdalena Michalska, Austin Mardon and Dr. Matthew Meeuwissen came out to support the Alberta bishops' statement on assisted suicide.


Panelists Mark Pickup, Dr. Magdalena Michalska, Austin Mardon and Dr. Matthew Meeuwissen came out to support the Alberta bishops' statement on assisted suicide.

February 22, 2016

The Alberta government should consult widely to find ways to protect some of the province's most vulnerable people when assisted suicide is legalized, say the bishops of Alberta.

The February 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing assisted suicide will come into effect June 6, and the Alberta bishops say they are "gravely concerned that [legalization] will place certain members of our common home at serious risk."

Increases in elder abuse and government cuts to funding for supports for the mentally ill are causes for concern, the bishops said in a statement released Feb. 11.

The mentally ill "have been disproportionately represented in cases of assisted suicide and euthanasia" in jurisdictions where the procedures are legal, they said. "Persons with disabilities are equally at risk."

The bishops called for excellent palliative care, home care, and hospice and social services for seniors.

However, they emphasized that any "intentional, willful act of killing oneself or another human being is morally wrong," not only in the eyes of the Church, but also according to reason.

They also asserted, "No Catholic may advocate for, or participate in any way, whether by act or omission, in the intentional killing of another human being either by assisted suicide or euthanasia."

The bishops further stated the conscience rights of physicians and other health care workers must be protected in Alberta. Forcing a doctor to assist a suicide or carry out an act of euthanasia would "fundamentally redefine what it means to be a doctor.

"Killing is not medicine."

At the news conference releasing the statement, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith was joined by a panel of doctors and community advocates.

The overriding concern expressed by participants is that too many Albertans fail to realize what this legislation means. All five urged members of the audience to make their views known to their physicians and to elected officials.

Panelist Dr. Magdalena Michalska, a nephrologist, linked the violation of doctors' consciences with Eastern European communism and Nazi concentration camps where medical people were threatened with death or torture if they did not carry out orders that violated their basic beliefs.

"Are Canadian doctors to be exposed to an act of moral torture because of their beliefs?" she asked.

Catherine Mardon

Michalska appealed to the College of Physicians and Surgeons to protect such doctors from discrimination and intimidation when they follow their consciences.

Austin Mardon, a geographer whose mental health advocacy work earned him an Order of Canada, said 40 per cent of those who commit suicide are suffering from depression.

"Mental illness is not a terminal illness," Mardon said.

Dr. Matthew Meeuwissen, an emergency medicine physician in Stony Plain, said the root cause for patients' expressing a desire to die can be found in depression or mental illness.

"As a medical community, the last things we should telegraph to our suffering patients is the message, 'You are right. Your life has no value at the moment. We can kill you,'" he said.

Another panelist whose life illustrates that being disabled does not mean being unable, Mark Pickup said his multiple sclerosis hit him one night in 1984. If he had succumbed to suicide, Pickup said he would never have known the joys that awaited him such as the delight of his grandchildren.

"You never know what tomorrow can bring."

Realizing he had a life worth living, Pickup also recognized he had a "responsibility to society" and "chose community" over self-interest.

Though bound to a wheelchair because of his MS, Pickup travels the world to deliver his pro-life message.

One person present who has seen the reality of a person being put to death is Catherine Mardon. Once a lawyer in Texas, Catherine had to watch one of her clients be executed.


The method at that time was to administer a three-drug cocktail. The first drug was an anesthetic, the second one paralyzed the patient, the third stopped the heart.

However, the first drug did not work on Catherine's client. She and the others viewing the execution had to watch as the man, while wide awake, became paralyzed and then feel his heart stop.

Her memory is vivid; she still dreams about the botched execution.