Archbishop Richard Smith makes a point while panelists Lisa Daniels and Dr. Anna Voeuk listen during the April 5 Every Life Matters session at Edmonton's Corpus Christi Church.


Archbishop Richard Smith makes a point while panelists Lisa Daniels and Dr. Anna Voeuk listen during the April 5 Every Life Matters session at Edmonton's Corpus Christi Church.

April 18, 2016

The spectre of assisted suicide is leading aging people to "fear an institution that should be the last thing they should ever fear - a hospital," says Archbishop Richard Smith.

"But the strong feeling is, 'If I can't speak for myself, if I'm alone with no family members, are they going to kill me?'" he said during the second of the Every Life Matters series April 5 at Edmonton's Corpus Christi Church.

It is a question that "flows naturally" from the Supreme Court decision, the archbishop said.

"This decision turns inside out the relationship between patient and doctor, patient and hospital; it undermines the trust that must be there."

The five-part series held across the Edmonton Archdiocese has drawn large crowds and raised poignant questions on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

"I was almost overwhelmed with the interest and questions," said Alicja Chandra, a volunteer at the Edmonton Pregnancy Crisis Centre.

Chandra watched the first session of the series in Lloydminster by live webcast, before attending the Corpus Christi session.

"It's easy to see that people are really concerned," she said.

The archbishop said the other "elephant in the room" is what does that have to say about family life?

In a session with a group of seniors at St. Joseph's Basilica held prior to the Every Life Matters series, Smith heard how the elderly are feeling pressure to not be a burden on their children and on society.

"That's where the so-called right to die slips into a duty to die," he said.

In jurisdictions where physician-assisted suicide has been legal for some time, those asked why they would ask for it put avoidance of pain and suffering near the bottom of the list of reasons, while not wanting to be a burden was at the top, said Smith.

"How does that even creep into people's heads?"

Chandra is also concerned about young people: how families can be torn apart by the pressure the legislation puts on people to "not be a burden" on their children, or the temptation of young people envisioning coming into an early inheritance.

"It may come to this - 'I don't need my parent anymore. If he or she goes, then I'll inherit.'"

As she nears the last stage of her own life, Chandra has been proactive in preparing her will and making sure her family will defend, not only her views, but her pro-life values.

"They're clear on those issues," she said, although she does not wish her life to be prolonged unnecessarily.

"If there's no hope for me physically, why not let God intervene whenever he wants to take me?"

Chandra said the Conversations with the Archbishop series, which included expert panelists and a period for questions, helped shed light on the many concerns, as the legalization of assisted suicide approaches.

Smith was joined by panelists Dr. Anna Voeuk, a palliative care physician who spoke about the need for improved access to palliative care for all Canadians, and Lisa Daniels, a young mother who shared her personal story of hope and love, despite suffering from chronic pain.

Daniels' video testimony is also featured on the Every Life Matters website,

Citing key messages of the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians, Voeuk said every Canadian has a right to high quality palliative care, which does not include assisted suicide.

Voeuk ended her talk sharing her favourite quote from Dame Cicely Saunders, a pioneer in the field of palliative care, who said: "You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life. We will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but to live until you die."

Addressing a question about the economic case for ending a person's life in order to reduce health care spending, Voeuk said the vulnerable must be protected. "Nobody wants to talk about it," she said.


Smith said the need to surrender control of the entirety of lives into God's hands is the way forward.

Just as the serpent seduced Adam and Eve into thinking that God is not to be trusted, lies are being heard in euphemisms such as "medical aid in dying," used to cover the fact of murder, he said.

"Just as Adam and Eve were seduced by a lie, we are being tempted today by means of falsehood to distrust the ways of God and to usurp control."


Christ brought a new awareness of the depths of the Father's love to the world. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, he unites the Church to himself through the sacraments, Smith said.

As Jesus said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit," Christians put faith in action by surrendering to God's love, wisdom and providence at the time of death.

All sessions in Every Life Matters will be rebroadcast on Salt+Light TV.