The Supreme Court's ruling legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia will come into effect June 6.

CNS PHOTO | LAWRENCE LOOI, EPA

The Supreme Court's ruling legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia will come into effect June 6.

March 7, 2016
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

Canada's Catholic bishops, the Alberta bishops and an array of other groups have condemned recommendations in a special parliamentary report on assisted death tabled in the House of Commons Feb. 25.

"Killing the mentally and physically ill, whether young or aged, is contrary to caring for and loving one's brother and sister," said a pastoral letter from Hamilton Bishop Douglas Crosby, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Crosby called the committee report an example of what Pope Francis has called a "throw-away culture."

He urged Catholics to let their elected representatives know the recommendations of the special joint Parliamentary Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying are "completely unacceptable."

In a separate statement, the six Alberta bishops said last year's Supreme Court ruling in the Carter decision tossing out the laws banning euthanasia and assisted suicide was "a grave disappointment."

But the parliamentary committee's recommendations "go far beyond the mandate" which the Supreme Court gave to legislators, they said.

"If implemented, these recommendations of the special joint committee, far from limiting the harm of the Carter decision, would expand it," the Alberta bishops said.

The parliamentary committee calls for:

  • Allowing physician-assisted death for those with psychiatric conditions.
  • Opening the way for children under 18 to be euthanized.
  • Permitting advanced directives for people with dementia so they can be euthanized provided they made the directive when competent.
  • Forcing physicians to make an effective referral.
  • Ensuring that all health facilities that receive public funding provide physician-assisted death.

The three Conservative MPs on the committee, including its vice co-chair MP Michael Cooper, issued a dissenting report that said the recommendations go far beyond the parameters outlined in the Carter decision.

At a Feb. 25 news conference, Cooper described the majority recommendations as "dangerous."

LACK OF PROTECTIONS

The dissenting report blasted the lack of protections for vulnerable Canadians and the violation of health professionals' conscience rights.

"I have no words to describe how sad and alarming this report is," said Michele Boulva, director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family.

"If the Trudeau government develops a bill following these lines, it will be the worst legislation in the world - a huge societal failure," Boulva said.

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said the report recommends no objective criteria for assessing "intolerable suffering." "It means it's pretty wide open," he said.

"Once euthanasia for minors is allowed, as well as for those with dementia based on an advanced directive, there will be arguments for the euthanasia of children and for incompetent adults," he warned.

Schadenberg said if the recommendations concerning referrals becomes part of the legislation, "many good doctors will leave Canada."

The Coalition for HealthCARE came out strongly against the recommendations' violation of conscience rights.

"In our view, effective referral and participating in assisted death are morally and ethically the same thing," said Larry Worthen, coalition member and executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada.

"This would force people of conscience and faith to act against their moral convictions and threaten the very core of why they became physicians, which is to help to heal people," Worthen said in a news release.

"No other jurisdiction in the world requires physicians to refer for assisted death."

The coalition also expressed shock over the recommendation to force health care institutions to participate.

GRAVE THREAT

"This is a grave threat to a large number of faith-based health care institutions across the country, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, nursing homes and hospices," Worthen said.

"Forcing these members, and leaders of these facilities, to act in this way, would be trampling on their constitutional right to freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed under the charter."

The Catholic Civil Rights League said in a news release the committee's "majority recommends the practically unfettered and immediate implementation of death on demand."

"The league fears for the elderly, the disabled, and those with mental health afflictions, that they will be the subject of increased pressure to take their own lives, rather than gain access to treatment, or palliative care," the release said.

SCOPE WILL WIDEN

"In every other jurisdiction, the scope of assisted suicide and euthanasia widens, and instances of egregious circumstances of premature death prevail."

The Quebec-based Physicians' Alliance Against Euthanasia and the grassroots organization Living with Dignity said, "We have barely finished Suicide Prevention Week, and lo and behold, our political leaders are promoting a right to assistance in committing suicide."

The Quebec groups point to the report's recommendation the euphemism "medical aid in dying" be used in any future legislation instead of "assisted suicide" or "euthanasia" since those terms are considered "loaded."

The Catholic Health Association, however, was more conciliatory.

WILLING TO NAVIGATE

"It is too soon to know which of the 21 recommendations may be part of any final legislation," said a statement from association president Michael Shea.

"As the federal government carefully considers the report and begins to draft legislation, we will continue to work in humility and openness with all stakeholders to navigate this issue."

House Leader Dominic Leblanc said a decision on whether to force MPs to support the legislation will be made after the bill is drafted. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said it is too early to say what the legislation will contain.

The court's ruling on the issue will come into effect June 6.