The Catholic bishops of Canada are urging Catholics to voice their opposition to a radical bill that would allow assisted suicide and euthanasia for those with severe chronic mental or physical pain or even depression. Insisting that killing is not compassionate, the bishops said the lives of those who suffer should be valued and affirmed.
"Euthanasia and assisted suicide are the antithesis to what should be at the heart of human civilization - trust, respect, concern and solidarity, based on reverence for all human life," Archbishop James Weisgerber of Winnipeg wrote in a July 17 letter to his fellow bishops.
The archbishop, head of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), urged bishops to invite Catholics to become informed about euthanasia, to speak to their political representatives, and to join with others in fighting efforts to change the law.
“This debate must be taken seriously,” Archbishop Weisgerber continued, noting an apparent growing tolerance in the news media towards euthanasia and assisted suicide, Canadian Catholic News reports.
Bill C-384, introduced into the Canadian House of Commons by MP Francine Lalonde of the Bloc Quebecois, would amend the Criminal Code of Canada to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. It is Lalonde’s third attempt to pass such a law.
The Quebec College of Physicians presently has an ethics task force investigating whether euthanasia might be appropriate in some circumstances.
Archbishop of Edmonton Richard W. Smith wrote a pastoral letter on the topic to the faithful of his archdiocese in July.
He noted that Catholics have a “serious responsibility” to speak out in defense of “the precious gift of human life wherever it is threatened.”
Distinguishing euthanasia from requests to refuse excessively burdensome treatment, he explained that directly assisting someone in taking their own life is cooperation in an “objectively wrong” action and is itself immoral.
The description of assisted suicide as a “compassionate” response was a “misuse of language” that can blind us to the killing of another human being, the archbishop said.
“True compassion calls us to stand with our suffering brothers and sisters and affirm that they are always a gift and never a burden; that their lives are at every moment worthwhile and never without meaning,” Archbishop Smith insisted.
The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), which is co-sponsored by the CCCB and the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus, has produced a one-page primer on C-384.
"The legalization of euthanasia and/or assisted suicide is not about autonomy, dignity and choice," COLF director Michele Boulva told Canadian Catholic News. "It is about giving some of us the right to kill others."
"Euthanasia can never be considered as care," she continued. "It is killing."
She also charged that countries and U.S. states that have allowed the killing procedures have witnessed the erosion of safeguards.
The COLF primer said that Bill C-384 is not only for the terminally ill because the legislation does not define terminal illness.
“A person could request euthanasia or assisted suicide right after being diagnosed and not be actively dying,” it reported.
Anyone over 18 years old who requests assisted suicide while in severe chronic mental or physical pain or depression may receive it even if he or she has refused appropriate treatments. The primer warned that medical practitioners are not required to refer patients to a psychologist or palliative care specialist.
COLF also noted that the person requesting to be killed must only make two requests to die more than 10 days apart while only “appearing lucid.”
Additionally, the primer charged that the bill endangers the sick, depressed, elderly and disabled and will confirm the fears of those who may feel burdensome.
“Instead of protecting them, Bill C-384 opens the way to their elimination. Many of the weakest members of society may feel pressured into a ‘duty to die’,” COLF warned. It said that a truly compassionate act would provide proper care, effective pain control, and social, emotional and spiritual support.
The primer also attacked the often used slogan “death with dignity,” saying dignity does not depend on health, lack of suffering, or being valued by society.
It also warned of a loss of trust between doctors and their patients and between the vulnerable and the powerful in society. The primer noted that 6,000 Dutch citizens have reportedly been killed by their doctors without their consent under the cover of legalized assisted suicide.
“We can expect people to be killed because they chose to die while depressed or temporarily in intense pain, instead of receiving proper medical attention,” the primer added.
C-384 is scheduled for debate in Parliament on September 29.