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Assisted suicide consultations to start soon

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — As the federal government is poised to begin consultations on euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation, various pro-life individuals and anti-euthanasia groups are staking out their positions.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay told Canadian Press April 27 the government would set up an independent commission to do wide-ranging consultations, with a process to be announced soon.

MacKay said no legislation will be tabled before the election next October, but he expected the government would have legislation in place to meet the one-year deadline set by the Supreme Court of Canada Feb. 6 when it struck down Canada’s laws against assisted suicide in the Carter decision.

While euthanasia may be off the table as an election issue for the Tories, it may remain a concern for many Catholic and pro-life voters.

In a May 1 pastoral letter Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast said the Supreme Court “changed medical ethics forever,” and should “concern all Canadians because it gave physicians the right, in law, to be the hands that cause the death of a patient at the most vulnerable time of their life. This decision also re-interpreted the ‘right to life’ in Canada’s constitution as providing a ‘right to die.’ ”

“This decision is concerning because the subjective language that the court used in the decision could be interpreted widely to include euthanasia, with few if any controls, leading to the abandonment of people at the most vulnerable time of their life rather than with provision of proper medical care,” he wrote. The archbishop urged the faithful to actively support the culture of life.

The Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) released a report saying the court crossed “a sacred line” when they concluded the sanctity of life “is no longer an absolute value — it can be usurped by choice.”

ARPA warned of “significant consequences when the right to life and human dignity “are no longer inviolable.” It argued “humans have a right to life simply from being or existing as a human — an objectively measurable standard.”

“When the right to life is changed to something subjective where the right come from possessing specific abilities or enjoying certain qualities of life that others thing are necessary, the right to life become violable,” ARPA said.

ARPA warned that once one crosses the fixed line of the inviolability of human life, then “it becomes impossible to draw a fixed line between those who can be killed and those who cannot.” It joined the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) and other groups and individuals in asking MacKay to invoke the notwithstanding clause to give the government more time to study the legislation and craft a bill that does the least harm.

The EPC has been urging supporters to ask MacKay to invoke the notwithstanding clause, “and to call a Royal Commission to protect people with disabilities, elders who live with abuse, depressed and suicidal people and others,” according to EPC executive director Alex Schadenberg. Invoking the override provision in the Charter would suspend the Supreme Court decision for five years.

McGill University Ethics Margaret Somerville has also called for a Royal Commission to investigate the facts concerning euthanasia and assisted suicide, because allowing “physician assisted death” is not a small incremental change as proponents argued. She told the Manning Centre Networking Conference in March the change represents a “seismic shift.”

Cardus released a study in late April called “Death is natural: reframing the end-of-life conversation in Canada” along with a Nanos opinion survey that showed 73 per cent of Canadians “are concerned or somewhat concerned they would not get the comfort and support they would hope to receive if they or a loved one faced a life-threatening experience or was nearing death.”

“We need to build a social system that supports the desires of Canadians for a natural death, which we understand to mean dying of natural causes in our natural environment surrounded by our natural caregivers,” Cardus vice-president Ray Pennings wrote.

Pennings revealed 75 per cent of Canadians say they would prefer to die at home, but in fact 70 per cent die in hospital settings due to an increased “medicalization of death.” The Cardus study urged a greater focus on providing palliative care and hospice care.

Schadenberg wrote on his blog EPC polls show “few Canadians strongly support euthanasia or assisted suicide and that support for euthanasia is based on a fear of a bad death.”

Responding to the Cardus study and Nanos poll, Schadenberg said: “It is this fear of suffering that drives support for euthanasia.”

In his letter, Prendergast tackled some of the confusion surrounding end of life care and pain management, noting “the church teaches that patients in the final phase of terminal illness may request and be given whatever pain relief is required, even if, indirectly, it could shorten their life.”

The archbishop also allayed fears of being forced to undergo unwanted medical treatment at end of life.

“Refusal to begin or to continue to use a medical procedure where the burdens, harms and risks of harm are out of proportion to any anticipated benefit is not equivalent to suicide,” he said. “We can see it as an acceptance of the human condition, or as a wish to avoid the application of a medical procedure that is disproportionate to the beneficial results that can be expected, or it may reflect an acceptable desire not to impose an excessive burden on the family or community.”

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