On March 17, the Canadian Senate approved Bill C-7, which expanded the eligibility for “Medical Assistance in Dying.”
The legislation stripped the requirement that a person seeking assisted suicide must have a “reasonably foreseeable” death, and also allowed for a person to receive assisted suicide with mental illness as a sole underlying condition.
Archbishop Gagnon expressed concern that the new law will result in those with mental illness or disabilities to be pressured into ending their lives.
“The possible pressures,” he said, “are all too real, perilous, and potentially destructive.”
Archbishop Gagnon said that he and his brother bishops “desire to engage our Catholic faithful on a subject of crucial importance to all of us,” and encouraged them to “not lose heart.”
“As Bishops, we will accompany you in prayer and vigilant advocacy against a ‘culture of death’ which continues to erode the dignity of human life in our country,” said the letter.
“Our advocacy must continue for rapid access to mental health care, social support for people with such illnesses, and suicide prevention programs,” wrote Gagnon. “It must include the management and social support of individuals with chronic and/or degenerative diseases, and those living in isolation at our long-term care facilities.”
Bill C-7 was written in response to a 2019 Quebec Superior Court decision which found that limiting assisted suicide to only people with “reasonably foreseeable” deaths was a violation of human rights. The province was sued by two people with chronic, but not terminal or progressive, conditions who sought access to assisted suicide.
One of the plaintiffs in the case, Jean Truchon, had cerebral palsy and ended his life in April 2020.
Archbishop Gagnon’s letter noted that Bill C-7 did not include conscience protections for medical professionals who do not wish to participate in assisted suicide. In Canada, the law permits medical professionals to end the lives of their patients; in hte United States, state assisted suicide laws have required that the patient self-administer the lethal medication.
“We would find it unacceptable if healthcare professionals who oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide were ever to be coerced to participate in acts which their conscience finds morally wrong,” the archbishop’s letter stated. “The direct killing of a person may never be considered a duty. Likewise, we are categorically opposed to allowing euthanasia and assisted suicide to take place in institutions that bear the name of Catholic.”
The bishops’ letter praised palliative care as “beneficial for a patient’s physical, emotional, and spiritual condition, especially when provided early on,” and in a “community of care setting”
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“Palliative care, and not euthanasia or assisted suicide, is the compassionate and supportive response to suffering and dying,” they said. Canada, like many countries, has a shortage of palliative care physicians and Canadians are not guaranteed access to palliative care.
“Above all, we need to pray earnestly for a new outpouring of grace, so that the fear and despair experienced by many will give way to courage and hope and that all may welcome the call to support the suffering and dying in ways that reflect the loving and compassionate gaze of Jesus, the risen Lord who lives forever,” they said.