SASKATOON — The implications of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision legalizing assisted suicide were explored during this year’s diocesan convention of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada held April 19 - 20 at St. Patrick Parish in Saskatoon.
Keynote speaker Mary Deutscher described the court’s Feb. 6 decision on the Carter case. The court ruled against a criminal code ban on assisting someone to commit suicide. The decision opens the door to doctors providing assisted suicide and euthanasia to those who have an “irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual.”
The decision jeopardizes the lives of vulnerable Canadians, including those suffering depression, those living with disability and the elderly, Deutscher said, noting the court’s broad ruling is not restricted to those who are dying. In addition, the suffering that is deemed “intolerable to the individual” could be physical, psychological, or emotional.
In other jurisdictions where assisted suicide or euthanasia have been legalized, the practice has steadily escalated, Deutscher reported, sharing examples of persons with depression or disability who have lost their lives because of the legalization of physician-assisted death. Rules and safeguards are disregarded or eliminated over time, and there is often a gradual erosion of values, with assisted suicide or euthanasia becoming more and more prevalent in these jurisdictions, she related.
Safeguards do not work, Deutscher stressed, questioning whether there could ever be adequate rules, oversight and enforcement across Canada, and how the cost of such monitoring would be covered.
Deutscher is a member of the diocesan Justice and Peace Commission, and has a bachelor of science and a BA in philosophy from the University of Saskatchewan, and an MA in public ethics from St. Paul University in Ottawa. She is presently a PhD candidate in public policy at the University of Saskatchewan. Her experience includes serving as a Roman Catholic chaplain at Pasqua Hospital in the Archdiocese of Regina and a term position with the Catholic Organization for Life and Family — as well as time volunteering at a suicide prevention crisis hotline.
“I have witnessed how dangerous this world can already be for those with no support,” she said, questioning how society will change once assisted suicide or euthanasia becomes the norm.
Deutscher described how volunteers at the call centre tried to do everything in their power to stop a person from completing suicide. “We needed to let that person know that they were valuable, and that they should not complete suicide. How would the kind of work being done in these distress centres be affected if suicide becomes an acceptable option?” she asked. “Suicide is a problem, not a solution.”
The fear that elders have of being a burden — or the kind of pressures they already experience as a result of elder abuse — could lead many to request assisted death, she said.
There are already suggestions that assisted death is a way to reduce health care costs — and this could become another pressure forcing assisted suicide on those who do not want it. The phrase “duty to die” describes the kind of pressure that vulnerable patients and those living with disabilities or severe medical issues might soon face, she noted.
Another important issue is how to protect the conscience rights of health care providers — doctors, nurses and other caregivers — in order to provide protection for those who do not want to kill another human being, she added. “If someone is requesting assisted suicide, someone else is doing the killing,” Deutscher noted. “This ruling will change the way our health care system works.”
The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons has already approved a policy that would force doctors in some circumstances to provide services that they are morally opposed to — and the Saskatchewan governing body of physicians and surgeons recently sent a similar policy back to committee for further discussion.
Deutscher stressed the importance of working for improved palliative care and pain management. She encouraged CWL members to continue pursuing the compassionate “walking with” those who are sick or suffering, to ensure no one feels a need to ask for death.
Her suggestions included working to support those who are living with disabilities, finding ways to relieve and support caregivers, working actively for expanded hospice or palliative care in our communities, or volunteering at long-term care homes or at distress line call centres.
Deutscher also encouraged ongoing efforts to lobby elected representatives to invoke the “notwithstanding clause” to stop the legalization of assisted suicide, at least until new legislation is in place to govern this imminently legal procedure.
Deutscher urged CWL members to write elected representatives, to advocate for the vulnerable, and to speak out to others, telling stories of those they love who will be threatened by the legalization of assisted suicide — those who are depressed, who are living with a disability, who are elderly — and to share the importance and value of those lives.
This was the 80th annual diocesan CWL convention. Members were exploring the new national theme — One Heart, One Voice, One Mission — and the League call “to holiness through service to the people of God.”
Convention displays for the 80th anniversary listed all past presidents and spiritual advisors of the diocesan council, and president Frances Stang also acknowledged the CWL leadership in the former St. Peter’s Abbacy (now part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon).
In addition to keynote talks by Deutscher, the annual CWL convention included reports from the diocesan and provincial presidents, and from a number of CWL committees and conveners, touching on a wide range of issues and topics.
The CWL leadership and formation program Catch the Fire! was promoted as one way to inspire members and attract new interest in the mission of the CWL. Other reports summarized ministries and outreach, ongoing issues and concerns — such as respect for life, human trafficking, health and environment issues, and response to crises and poverty at home and around the world. As well, executive members spoke on administrative matters related to archives and council organization, finances and the work of the CWL Clothing Depot, which is located on the lower level of Friendship Inn in Saskatoon.
The convention included mass with Bishop Donald Bolen presiding, and a convention banquet that was saw convention chair Margaret Schwab as MC.
Greetings at the banquet were presented by Rev. Gerard Cooper of St. Patrick Parish, Clarence Stinn of the Knights of Columbus, Provincial CWL Spiritual Adviser Rev. Pius Schroh, Provincial CWL President Marge Szabo, Prince Albert Diocesan President Erna Day, Regina Archdiocesan President Marge Appell, Elizabeth Zahayko of the Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League, and a number of political representatives.
The diocesan CWL executive includes president Frances Stang, past-president Ruth Hiebert, first vice-president Wanda Graham, president-elect Marlene VanDresar, and spiritual adviser Claire Heron.