In Canada, new bill would expand euthanasia, assisted suicide, Catholics warn

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A bill reintroduced by the Canadian government this month would expand access to euthanasia and assisted suicide in the country while eliminating important safeguards, Catholic leaders and other opponents of the bill have said.

"We unequivocally affirm and maintain the fundamental belief in the sacredness of all human life, a value that we share with many others in our country, including persons of different faiths and no faith at all," Archbishop Richard Gagnon, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"Despite the misleading euphemism, 'Medical Assistance in Dying' (MAiD) remains simply euthanasia and assisted suicide – that is, the direct taking of human life or the participation in his/her suicide, which can never be justified," Gagnon added, according to Grandin Media.

Gagnon also serves as the Archbishop of Winnipeg. Grandin Media is the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

According to the federal government of Canada, the bill was written in response to the September 2019 decision by the Supreme Court of Quebec, which found that the requirement of a "reasonably foreseeable death" in order to qualify for euthanasia or assisted suicide was in violation of the provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantee all Canadians rights to life, liberty, and security of the person.

That case concerned two Canadians who were stricken with incurable, but not terminal, illnesses that caused debilitating pain. They had both been denied euthanasia.

The government said the bill is informed by its experience with assisted suicide and euthanasia over the past four years, as well as public support for expanded access to the practices. According to an Angus Reid Institute survey on the values of Canadians, conducted earlier this year, 80% of Canadians say "it should be easier to make their own end-of-life decisions."

In addition to removing the "reasonably foreseeable" natural death requirement, the new bill would ban eligibility for people who are only suffering from mental illness. Furthermore, it would add a "waiver of final consent" for eligible people whose natural death is "reasonably foreseeable," but who may lose the capacity to consent before they receive euthanasia or assisted suicide, according to Grandin Media. 

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition argued that rather than just dropping the reasonably foreseeable natural death requirement as the court proposed, the bill eliminates important safeguards through the "waiver of final consent" proposal, which would allow people to be put to death who may have changed their minds about assisted suicide or euthanasia, but have lost the capacity to communicate.

"They are making changes that are not in that court decision," Alex Schadenberg, director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told Grandin Media.

In a message to the coalition, shared with Grandin Media, he added, "I challenge each of you to ask for a meeting with your Member of Parliament. We must stand strong against the expansion of euthanasia."

Since becoming legal in 2016, the number of Canadians killed by physician-assisted suicide nearly doubled between 2017 and 2019, according to a report released by the Canadian government. More than a third of those who opted for "medical assistance in dying" cited concerns of being a burden to family or carers.

The first version of the current bill was introduced last February. At that time, Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, released a statement criticizing the expansion of the criteria for euthanasian and assisted suicide without expanding access to palliative care.

"Where is the political will to push forward on palliative care for all Canadians? Only 30% of Canadians have access to quality palliative care even though we know that pain and loneliness are among the biggest fears of those who are suffering. Palliative care can address these issues," Collins said.

"If all Canadians had access to quality palliative care, fewer would seek lethal injection. But instead of developing an overall culture of care, we are rushing towards death on demand," he said.

"Those who feel that their life no longer has value must be assured by all of us that this is absolutely not the case - there is dignity within each human life, not just when we are young, healthy and able, but even more so, when we are fragile and vulnerable," he added.

The current bill is set to be considered until December 18, though Grandin Media noted the bill's deadline has already twice been pushed back due to coronavirus-related restrictions.

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